By BEN JOHNSON
SILOAM SPRINGS, Ark. — If Chad Walker was a huge proponent of practice time, he may not be after his club’s performance Thursday morning.
With limited time to prepare for its opening-round game in the Siloam Springs Holiday Invitational, Class 5A No. 8 Tahlequah went out and clobbered Gentry (Ark.), 53-20, at the Panther Activity Center.
“I thought we’d be a little rusty,” Tahlequah point guard Marisa Girdner admitted, “but after practice yesterday and a shoot-around this morning, we kind of got back in our groove. I thought we played really well, considering [we had very little practice time].”
She’s not exaggerating, either.
After Tahlequah beat up on Pryor on Dec. 18, the Lady Tigers went their separate ways to enjoy the holiday festivities. And with Walker out of town and spending time with family, Tahlequah was unable to practice until Wednesday.
“The girls came in (Wednesday) night for about an hour and a half, and we ran through our offense,” Walker said. “We really didn’t even have a shooting practice. Then we came in early this morning and came over to play, so I’m really proud of them. I thought they did a good job.”
That might even be selling his team short.
The Lady Tigers (7-2) held an opponent to its lowest point total this season, eclipsing a mark Tahlequah set Dec. 6, when it limited Sand Springs to a measly 23 points. In fact, Tahlequah’s defense got better as the game progressed, allowing Gentry to 7, 6, 5 and 2 points per quarter, respectively.
“I feel very good about the fact that our defense held them to only 20 points,” said Walker, whose club will take on Siloam Springs tonight in the semifinals at 6:30.
“But they did get to the basket pretty easy. We were trying to focus on stopping ball first and helping our teammate first, so we just have to adjust from there.”
Destiny Thomas paced Gentry with six points on 2 of 7 shooting.
Scoring wasn’t an issue early on for Tahlequah. The Lady Tigers raced out to a 7-0 advantage, before sending an even more empathic message to the rest of the field by claiming a 20-7 edge after the first eight minutes.
Jhonett Cookson spearheaded Tahlequah’s early barrage, scoring 11 of her game-high 14 points in the opening period.
“Jhonett and Casey (Beaston) ought to be the first ones we look at every time down the floor, anyway,” Walker said of Cookson, who also had a game-high seven rebounds. “Jhonett played really well, and she didn’t miss very many shots.”
Girdner said of Cookson: “Jhonett always gets that very first basket, and that always gets us going. It’s always nice for her to get the tip and start out getting the first basket.”
Girdner was also sharp for the Lady Tigers, posting a season-high 10 points on 4 of 5 shooting from the floor. She was also instrumental in Tahlequah limiting itself to a season-low nine turnovers.
“We have goals and one of them is to get less than 10 (turnovers),” Girdner said. “I’m glad when we don’t have a lot of turnovers, because usually it’s because of me.”
On defense, Tahlequah held Gentry to 7 of 34 shooting. The Lady Pioneers were also out-rebounded 26-23 and handed the ball over 21 times.
Tahlequah — factoring in a 2 of 9 shooting performance in the fourth quarter — was 21 of 49 from the field.
The only issue Tahlequah faced was conditioning. No practice over the holiday break meant no endurance training for the Lady Tigers.
“The girls were a little winded, which they had a week off,” Walker said, “so that’s to be expected. I heard Randee (O’Donnell), on the bench, say, ‘this is a good way to get back into shape.’”
Tahlequah 53, Gentry (Ark.) 20
Gen 7 6 5 2 — 20
Tah 20 9 18 6 — 53
Gentry (4-5): Destiny Thomas 6, Page 4, Hammond 3, Milam 3, Cripps 2, Arnold 2.
Tahlequah (7-2): Jhonett Cookson 14, Marisa Girdner 10, Paige Carnes 6, Randee O’Donnell 5, Whitney Wright 5, Casey Beaston 5, Hadley 3, Blevins 3, Bohanon 1, Black 1.