MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

December 17, 2013

Home opener tonight for MHS

By Mike Kays
Phoenix Sports Editor

— They’re off to a 4-0 start and coming off three wins en route to their fourth straight tournament championship.

Muskogee’s girls find themselves in the Class 6A top 10 this week, just in time for a big early Frontier Conference tilt in its delayed home opener tonight.

The Lady Roughers, ranked No. 8 in this week’s OSSAA rankings, take on No. 2 Broken Arrow at Ron Milam Gymnasium in a 6 p.m. tipoff.

The Lady Tigers are 2-0 and are coming off a state tournament appearance last season. Muskogee was stunned in the area finals, losing back-to-back to Tulsa Washington and Union, but four starters from that team are graduated.

“They’re a lot more experienced ball club in couple ways,” MHS coach Doyle Rowland said Monday. “They’ve played together in AAU ball at least a year and they had that state experience last year and have most everyone back and some good move-ins too. This is what coach (Mike) Hughes has been working toward and they’ve arrived.

“But I like our mindset right now. We’re not afraid to match up with them.”

Muskogee knocked off 4A power Vinita in the semifinals and Bentonville, Ark., in the championship game to win the Big Dawg Classic at Vinita. In Saturday’s final, Jada Ford scored a season-high 30 points and was the tournament’s MVP. Aaliyah Wilson, the lone returning starter for Muskogee, had 10 points, eight rebounds and five blocked shots and was also an all-tournament selection.

But this is a conference tilt against one of what Rowland called part of the “big six” in the Frontier with Union, Jenks, Sapulpa, Owasso and his squad. And while the experience factor looms significant in this one, the more seasoned team plays a similar style as Rowland’s squad.

“Hughes wanted to develop an up-tempo team which mirrors the way we like to play and that makes it exciting for us,” Rowland said. “It’ll show us where we’re at.”

Among three starters back,Toree Thompson is averaging 23 points and Amari Dennis 13 for Broken Arrow, which hasn’t played since Dec. 3, winning 74-38 against Sand Springs. That’s the situation Muskogee’s boys find themselves in going into the second half of today’s doubleheader, having got their first tournament in Thanksgiving weekend in Dallas. The Roughers beat Sapulpa 58-55 a week ago to move to 3-0.

Coach Josh Berry, in his second season, didn’t see the layoff as bad. Quite the opposite.

“We didn’t miss a practice even during the snow days,” he said. “We probably got more practice time than we usually would and we also got to work in the ones that came out late from football and got them into basketball shape.”

That’s a core of the squad, starting with four-year starters Anthony King and Tramal Ivy, among others.

“It helped us to get that work in,” Berry said. “I’m looking forward to see what they can do.”