By Ronn Rowland
Phoenix Sports Writer
When the Jay Lady Bulldogs take the court in Fort Gibson at 6:30 tonight against the Fort Gibson Lady Tigers in Verdigris Valley Conference action, one thing is almost certain – points for Jay will be at a premium.
The Lady Tigers, 8-0 on the season, 4-0 on conference play, and No. 2 in the Okrankings.com Class 4A poll, are holding their opponents to an average of 32.6 points per game while the Lady Bulldogs (1-7, 0-4) are scoring an average of 36.8 points per outing.
“Our goal is to hold our opponents to no more than 40 points per game,” said Fort Gibson coach Jerry Walker. “We feel if we accomplish that, we’re going to be in the game.”
Only three times this season has Fort Gibson surrendered more that 40 points – Locust Grove, Verdigris and Oologah – and on three occasions held a team to under 30 points – Catoosa, Coweta and Wagoner.
“You can’t really practice defense individually,” Walker said. “You can work on conditioning but when it gets down to it, it’s what’s in you mentally and physically. Our defense starts out front with Taylor (London) and Allie (Glover).
“They’re not gonna get beat off the dribble to where the back has to come help out. We want to make you shoot the ball where we want you to shoot it. We’ve got some tough kids that know how to play defense.”
Walker is quick to point out that one of his toughest players is sophomore forward CheyAnne Johnson, the team’s leading rebounder. Johnson’s defensive skills have become second nature.
“We’ve been running the same defense ever since we were in sixth grade, so it’s like an automatic thing,” Johnson said. “You know exactly where to go and at what time when the ball’s in the air. You don’t even have to think about it.”
Even when a player gets past Johnson and scores, she doesn’t get too upset and just waits until the next time down the floor.
“Mistakes happen,” she said. “You just have to shake it off and know you have to do something different the next time.”
And the interior defense is not on the shoulders of just one person. With Brooke Palmer manning the other inside position, Fort Gibson is able to cover more area and force its opponents into positions that benefit the Lady Tigers.
“If Brooke is the main inside or I’m the main inside, we’ve just learned everything everyone else has to do,” Johnson said. “Our defense is like a puzzle piece. Everyone just matches well.”
And that puzzle has proven successful over the past eight seasons. The Lady Tigers have made eight straight state tournaments with five appearances in the finals, bringing home the gold ball in 2011.
“We try to make it where everybody understands that you’re gonna have bad shooting nights,” Walker said. “It’s easy to sell the defense when the girls see you win a state title with girls 5-feet-4 and 5-5 and one girl 5-10, then the next year you don’t have the 5-10 girl and you get back to the finals. It’s a mind set and a toughness thing.”
All games 6:30/ 8 p.m. (girls/boys) (unless otherwise noted)
Jay at Fort Gibson
Wagoner at Catoosa (2/3:30 p.m.)
Henryetta at Oktaha (3/4:30 p.m.)
Cascia Hall at Sequoyah (3:30/5 p.m.)
Gore at Vian (4:30/6 p.m.)
Jenks at Muskogee (5/6:30 p.m.)
Heavener at Stigler (5:30/7 p.m.)
Hulbert at Sallisaw Central
Locust Grove at Keys
Okay at Warner
Okmulgee at Hilldale
Tahlequah at Bishop McGuiness
Vian at Gore
Webbers Falls at Gans