Ardmore advances to a semifinal, to be played at 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 10, at the Mabee Center in Tulsa.
SKIATOOK — A change in offensive tactics at halftime produced big dividends for Ardmore on Thursday night.
With its outside shooting not working in the first half, the No. 5 Lady Tigers started to move the ball inside more during a pivotal third quarter on the way to a 46-35 quarterfinal victory against No. 12 Claremore in the Class 5A girls’ state basketball championships at the Brooks Walton Activity Center.
With the victory, Ardmore (19-5) advances to meet No. 6 Tahlequah in the semifinals at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Mabee Center on the Oral Roberts University campus in Tulsa.
The No. 6 Tigers (22-5) defeated No. 7 El Reno 55-44 in quarterfinal action Thursday afternoon.
J’Sades Ainsworth tallied eight of her game-high 20 points in the third quarter when the Lady Tigers outscored the Lady Zebras 18-11 to stretch a three-point halftime advantage to a 10-point cushion entering the final period.
“We struggled a little bit in the first half,” Ardmore head coach Debra Manley said after her team took a 16-13 lead to the lockerroom at halftime.
The Lady Tigers connected on just 6 of 22 shots from the floor in the opening half and missed all eight of their 3-pointers in the first 16 minutes.
“At halftime, we said that we were not playing well right now but that we were still up by three points,” Manley said.
“I told the players to go get it and, sure enough, they did.”
Ardmore came out of halftime and quickly scored the first four points of the second half to grab a seven-point lead, its biggest lead of the game to that point.
“I told our players at halftime to stay positive and that every possession was a new opportunity,” Manley said.
“I am real proud of them.”
Ainsworth tallied a pair of short jumpers early in the decisive third quarter then finished the period with a steal and a breakaway layup and a drive to the hoop to give Ardmore a 34-24 advantage.
“We weren’t shooting well from the outside in the first half,” Ainsworth said.
“So we decided to open the lane by driving to the middle,” the 5-foot-9 junior forward said.
That strategy worked to perfection as the Lady Tigers were able to draw Claremore’s defense inside with drives to the basket before kicking ball back out for uncontested shots from the outside.
Sierra Gordon, who finished with 10 points, nailed a pair of 3-pointers in the third quarter, both off assists from Christa Pickens.
Pickens, a senior and a member of Ardmore’s state tournament team in 2015, came off the bench to hit a couple of big baskets in the first half to help keep the Lady Tigers in front.
“We have a lot of underclassmen so I just try to come in off the bench, be a spark plug and be a big part of our team,” she said.
Pickens, who finished with seven points, said the experience at state two years ago was key for her this year.
“The big lights and all that noise, I remember that,” she said of the 2015 state tournament.
“It helped a lot tonight.”
Another key for Ardmore against Claremore (15-13) was its defense.
The Lady Tigers forced the Lady Zebras into 21 turnovers and just 13 of 40 shooting from the field. That total included a 2 of 15 performance from beyond the arc.
Manley pointed out the play of sophomore Tieronay Banks on Claremore standout Lauren Chancellor as a big part of the team’s defensive effort.
Chancellor was held to just 12 points (4 in the first half) before fouling with 3:40 to play in the game. She entered the game averaging 17 points a contest.
Amaya Gordon added six points and 10 rebounds for Ardmore.
The Lady Tigers won despite hitting just 12 of 22 free throws. They were 6 of 16 at one point before hitting their final six attempts.
Trying to ice the game in the fourth quarter, Ardmore missed the front end of three straight bonus opportunities but Claremore could not capitalize on the misses.
ARDMORE 46, CLAREMORE 35
Claremore 4 9 11 11 — 35
Ardmore 8 8 18 12 — 46
Claremore (15-13): Chancellor 12, Robinson 8, Farmer 7, Hardage 6, Cox 2.
Ardmore (19-5): J'Sades Ainsworth 20, Sierra Gordon 10, Christa Pickens 7, Amaya Gordon 6, Tata Lee 2, Tieronay Banks 1.