It's time for Tahlequah vs. Memorial Part II. Only this time there's considerably less on the line.
The two clubs met in the area tournament finals last season with a trip to the Class 5A state tournament on the line. Tahlequah triumphed 43-36, thanks to a balanced scoring effort, highlighted by Marisa Girdner's 14 points.
Now the two 5A clubs will meet again. Tenth-ranked Tahlequah will welcome No. 6 Memorial to the Tahlequah Multipurpose Activity Center today at 10 a.m. in the first round of the 2013 Tahlequah Tiger Invitational.
Despite both clubs being in the top 10 in 5A, it's a clash of the No. 4 seed (Memorial) and the No. 5 seed (Tahlequah) in the opening round of the event.
"You know the field must be pretty tough when it's No. 6 Memorial vs. No. 10 Tahlequah right off the bat," Tahlequah first-year coach Johnny Dyson said. "It should be a very interesting and competitive tournament."
The Tahlequah-Memorial contest will be the first of eight contests on Thursday. Friday and Saturday will follow with eight games each, too.
On the girls side, Enid, Yukon, Van Buren (Ark.) and Rogers Heritage (Ark.) figure to give the winner of the Tahlequah-Memorial matchup a run for its money with the tournament title on the line.
"It's a tough field that includes some pretty good 6A teams from Oklahoma," Dyson said, "and talented large-school teams from Arkansas."
If Tahlequah hopes to have any chance of hoisting the championship trophy on Saturday night, it knows what it has to do to get past Memorial on the opening day of the tournament. The primary objective is to bottle up Memorial's Faith Ihim.
"A player of Ihim's caliber might not be able to be completely shut down," said Dyson of Ihim, who scored a game-high 26 points against Tahlequah in the area finals in February.
"We want her to work and labor for each shot she attempts. We can't let her have any easy ones."
One issue Tahlequah will have to contend with against Memorial is a size disadvantage. Latreece Black and Reagan Clark are the only players listed at 5 feet, 9 inches or taller. Tahlequah's primary attack is with guards, such as Girdner (5-4), Whitney Wright (5-7) and Lindsay Wade (5-7).
"Ihim goes 5-10 and (Memorial) has two others that play quite a bit that go 5-10 and 5-11," Dyson said. "So their length is something we'll have to be aware of. We also have to limit them to one shot and not give them any second chances."
Tahlequah enters the game against Memorial at 1-0 after routing Coweta — also in the tournament field — 51-32 last week. Wade, Wright and Girdner combined for 27 points in Tahlequah's season-opening victory.
"We definitely had some bright spots in our first game," Dyson said. "Whitney Wright caught fire early and that set the tone. Lindsay Wade had a good night, also. Marisa Girdner controlled the pace of the game well and added some rebounding from her guard position."
One thing Dyson will be looking for moving forward, though, will be bench production — which last season came mostly from long-range specialists, Maegan Blevins and Alissa Hadley, who both graduated.
"We'll need an offensive spark coming off the bench," Dyson said. "I'm hoping Alli George, Kirsten Chase, Cailey Cunningham or Latreece Black can provide us with that."
Following the Tahlequah-Memorial girls game will be the Tahlequah boys. The Tigers will take on Enid at 11:30 a.m.