By Matt Goisman
McALESTER — To advance to the second round of the Class 5A playoffs, the McAlester Buffaloes will have to at least beat the Bishop Kelley Lady Comets in tonight’s regional semifinal at Collinsville at 6:30 p.m.
The Lady Comets were ranked 13th on the Oklahoma Secondary Schools Activities Association website as of Wednesday morning. But they also went 6-16 in the regular season — one win fewer than McAlester’s regular-season record.
“I see a lot of similarities in us and McAlester, and I really think it’s going to be a dogfight,” Bishop Kelley coach Jade Allison said Wednesday.
“I really think it’s going to come down to execution and who values possession of the ball the most.”
Like the Lady Buffs, the Lady Comets typically start their games with three forwards on the court. Sophomore small forward Leah Colon leads the team with 10 points per game, while senior power forward Jenny Berry averages 6.
Senior Miranda Rauner rounds out the Kelley frontcourt at center.
“She’s scored some points for us, but her main presence has been defensively,” Allison said of Rauner.
Bishop Kelley’s three forwards will have to battle with McAlester’s trio of Baylee Dawkins (7.3 points per game), Lacey McLain (14.2) and Shattee Robinson (4.6). Allison said on film those three Lady Buffs looked like the ones to stop, with McLain serving as the team’s “go-to” shooter and Robinson looking like someone who “could hurt you.”
“They start three post players, which matches up with what we’re doing, because we’re going to start out three post players,” McAlester coach April Burns said. “And they run a match-up zone (defense), so we’re going to have to look to really attack the paint and go from an inside-out game. And defensively, they really look to attack the high post.”
While the forwards have done most of the scoring for Bishop Kelley this season, the Lady Comets also start two seniors in shooting guard Madeline McKenzie and point guard Kristina Ngo. Allison said McKenzie has been the team’s starting shooting guard and “definitely our defensive leader” all season, but multiple players have started at point guard this season.
“We’ve been studying their inbounds play,” Burns said. “We’ve been studying a couple offenses that they run. I think (my girls) see that they can be successful.”
Like the Lady Comets, the Lady Buffs have battled inexperience this season, especially from McAlester’s guards. But while that’s led to just a 7-14 record — though four wins were against 5A schools — Burns said she’s seen definite growth from her team since the season began in early December.
"In the Ardmore game (on Feb. 21), they pressed us the whole time, and I think we had 10 turnovers,” Burns said. “That’s amazing for us. Whenever we started off the year, (we had) like 33, 34.”
Burns added, “We just have to make sure we get past our four, five, six-minute lull where we don’t perform. If you take those breaks in high school basketball, you’re not going to win a lot of games.”
Rebounding, Burns said, will be essential to beat the Lady Comets. Dawkins leads the Lady Buffs with 6.9 points per game, and all of McAlester’s wins this season have seemed to come on nights that featured good Lady Buffs rebounding.
“They do block out, but they don’t necessarily go get the ball,” Burns said of the Lady Comets.
“We have to go in and get some offensive rebounds.”
A win tonight would mean a regional championship against either Collinsville or Nathan Hale on Saturday at 1:30 p.m. A win would also guarantee McAlester a trip to the area tournament and another weekend of games.
“These girls are not ready to hang it up,” Burns said.
“These are some of the hardest-working girls I’ve ever coached.”
To get to Collinsville High School, take the Indian Nation Turnpike to US-75 N. Take exit 3A for Southwest Boulevard, then turn right onto West 12th Street and then turn left to merge onto OK-51 E/US-64 E/US-75 N.
Keep left to continue on US-75 N, follow signs for Bartlesville and after 16.6 miles exit toward Collinsville. Drive 0.3 miles, then merge onto East 146th Street North.
Collinsville High School is at 2400 W. Broadway St. McAlester plays Bishop Kelley at 6:30 p.m.
Contact Matt Goisman at email@example.com.