High school basketball: Tigers take state, finish perfect season that was bigger than the game

Clay Horning, The Norman Transcript, Okla.
·4 min read

Mar. 13—TULSA — They did it.

The Norman High girls, who made a decision to stand for more than basketball two months ago when they knelt for the national anthem the first time at Moore High School, did it.

The won that night. They won every game before that night. Now they've won every game after it.

Their conviction never took a backseat. Nor did their basketball.

They tipped off against Bixby Saturday morning for the Class 6A state championship and not too long into the afternoon, they'd won it, 48-37, claiming the program's sixth gold ball.

The others came in 1993, 1996, 1997, 2005 and 2019.

They were also 24-1 and the No. 1 team in the state a year ago when the state tournament, a concession to the coronavirus, was canceled.

Also, thanks to the virus, they played fewer games than the '97 team played to win its crown, but they lost the same number.

Zero.

"Everything we've been through the entire year is well worth it and [it's a] relief," NHS coach Michael Neal said. "because we accomplished our mission from the very beginning of the season."

As occurred the day before, the Tigers took the game over in the third quarter. Yet, different than the day before, they literally stole Saturday's championship.

Up four points at the break, and after Aaliyah Henderson couldn't get a shot near the rim to fall, senior point guard Kelbie Washington stole the ball in the halfcourt and turned it into a transition layup.

Before the third quarter was 64 seconds old, she'd done it again and the Tigers led 25-17. Less than a minute later, Mikayla Parks picked a Spartan pocket, found Washington along the baseline, from which point she drove to the basket, hit a right-handed layup off the window and, fouled, knocked down her only free-throw attempt of the game.

That made it 28-17

Then, believe it or not, Myka Perry stole the ball, turned it into a layup of her own and the lead was 13 points. Bixby had yet to score in the half.

The rest of the game, the Spartans were never closer than the final score.

Washington had sparked the Tigers (19-0) in the third quarter of NHS' semifinal victory over Union, drawing a charge that flipped the game's script.

This time, pilfering the basketball was her ticket. Just like last time, she didn't want any credit.

"Yeah," she was looking to steal the ball, but Washington spent no more words on herself.

"I was kind of down before the half, but my teammates were there to encourage me," she said. "And I think that's why our defense was outstanding in the second half."

The lead reached 17 points on Washington's final bucket, early in the fourth quarter. The 6-0 run that followed was Bixby's last hurrah, cutting the deficit to 40-29.

Washington led the Tigers with 15 points, three rebounds, three steals and three assists.

She did not commit a turnover and the rest of her teammates committed only four, total, 18 fewer than the squad's tourney opener on Thursday.

Aaliyah Henderson added 10 points, getting to the rim over and over again. Chantae Embry finished with eight points and eight rebounds.

Perry finished with six points and three boards, as well as the game's best plus-minus — 13 — the scoring difference between the teams over the 31:02 she spent on the court.

"I think we had that mindset coming out of the locker room that this is our game," Embry said. "This is just our game. We have it and we're determined to win."

Bixby (19-6) got 16 points and four rebounds from Alyssa Nielsen, eight points and eight rebounds from Kate Bradley and six points and six boards from Meredith Mayes.

Inside the final minute, the ball rolled out of bounds about 10 feet from half court, toward the basket the Tigers were defending. The referee pointed toward the near hoop.

Washington couldn't believe it. Certain the ball should belong to her team, she was in disbelief, her arms in the air. So into it, she must have lost track of the clock, the gold ball about half a minute away. About a half-minute after that, it was forgotten.

They'd done it.

The Tigers were state champs.

Again.

Clay Horning

405 366-3526

Follow me @clayhorning

cfhorning@normantranscript.com