By BEN JOHNSON
Judging by Keys’ 7-3 mark this year, it would be hard to argue the success the Cougars are having. But Keys coach Duane Jones has been able to pinpoint some areas that need improving.
His first area of concern: starting strong in games.
“We have to start playing four quarters of basketball,” said Jones, whose team rallied from 19 points down to beat Wagoner in overtime on Dec. 18.
So, how does Keys fix its inefficiency early in games?
“It comes more from practice,” Jones said. “It’s a matter of staying focused in practice and being more intense.”
The Cougars hope they solved that problem over the recently-concluded winter break, which offered plenty of practice time over a span of 16 days.
“It was nice to have a winter break where we could get a lot of practices in,” Jones said. “We needed some practice time. We played a lot of games [in December], but we didn’t get much time to practice with football finishing late.”
The Cougars will begin the 2013 portion of their schedule tonight at home against Locust Grove, a team that beat Keys in the only matchup between the two clubs last season.
“They’re pretty good,” Jones said of the Pirates, who are 4-2. “They have three or four players back from last year, and I think they’re one of the better teams in the conference right now.”
Keys enters the Verdigris Valley Conference game 4-2 in the league. Locust Grove is 3-2.
“It’ll be a tough game after the break for us,” Jones said.
Keys girls healthy, ready for 2013
For Mickey Duncan and the Keys girls, winter break was a welcome occurrence.
“It came at a good time for us,” said Duncan, Keys’ coach. “Since the Catoosa game, we were all sick; we needed some time away from each other.”
The rash of illnesses didn’t seem to hamper Keys too much, though. The Lady Cougars lost to Catoosa on Dec. 14, but they rebounded to post wins over Vian and Wagoner before heading into the holiday break.
“The break came at the right time,” Duncan said.
Next up for the rejuvenated Lady Cougars is the first of back-to-back games with Locust Grove. The two teams will meet tonight at Cougar Fieldhouse before playing each other in the first round of the Locust Grove Invitational on Tuesday.
“It will be kind of tough,” Duncan said. “We may try to save some things for the tournament, but we’ll see how the game plays out. We would really like to win the first game in the tournament, because we want to play Adair in the next round.”
As for Duncan’s scouting report on Locust Grove, he said, “They’re going to be a team that’s going to get up and down the floor. That’s the way I like to play, and we’ll see if we can pick up the pace of our game and run up and down the floor with them. Hopefully we’ll be faster.”
Tahlequah girls up to No. 5 in 5A
Four years ago, Tahlequah was at the bottom of Class 5A, looking up at nearly every other in the classification.
As of Tuesday, Tahlequah is near the top of the heap, glancing down at almost 31 other schools in 5A.
When new rankings were posted earlier this week, the Tahlequah girls found themselves ranked fifth in the coaches poll.
Chad Walker’s turn-around efforts have certainly been a success.
“Four years ago, when I got here,” he said, “we were ranked 30th. Now, we’re fifth.”
Did the upper-echelon placement catch Walker off guard?
“It was a surprise,” Walker said. “...I don’t know if we’ve played up to (the ranking), but by the end of the year, that’s probably where we should be.”
The ascension in the 5A poll comes after Tahlequah went 1-2 in the Siloam Springs Holiday Tournament. The Lady Tigers blew out Gentry (Ark.) before dropping narrow setbacks to Prairie Grove (Ark.) and Siloam Springs (Ark.).
Now, Tahlequah will travel to Oklahoma City Saturday and take on Bishop McGuinness.
“They’re very aggressive,” Walker said of the Irish. “They’re going to pressure the ball, and they like to drive and kick. I don’t think they’ll have anyone that can match up with Jhonett (Cookson), but I don’t know that for sure.”
Irish pose tough test for Tigers
Nothing like getting thrown to the fire for the first time out in 2013. That’s the case for Tahlequah on Saturday, when it will play at 5A No. 3 Bishop McGuinness.
“Playing Bishop McGuinness is a great gauge for us and where we’re at right now,” Tahlequah coach Mike Leafgreen said. “The schedule we’ve played up until now has prepared us for this game, and it’s all steps along the path preparing us for the playoffs.”
The Tigers, currently sporting a 3-8 record, has only squared off with one top-10 team this year, and that resulted in a 65-42 loss to Coweta on Dec. 15. But after going 1-2 in last week’s Siloam Springs tournament, Leafgreen has reason for hope against the Irish.
“I have a lot of confidence in our guys and them coming out of this weekend having taken another step in the right direction,” he said. “If we play well, we’ll give ourselves an opportunity to keep it close with a chance at the end.”