The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

March 17, 2014

Underdog Lady Jets open play today in NJCAA tourney

By Bruce Campbell, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — Northern Oklahoma College Enid will be in a familiar role today when the 21-11 Lady Jets face off with 23-8 Eastern Arizona at 10 a.m. in the first round of the National Junior College Division I Basketball Tournament at Salina, Kan.

The No. 19-seeded Lady Jets, who beat three higher seeds (Murray State, Northeastern A&M and Eastern) in winning the Region 2 championship on March 8, will again be the underdogs against the No. 14-seeded Lady Gila Monsters (23-8).

“We have never made this kind of run as an underdog before,’’ said NOC Enid head coach Scott Morris, who is taking the Lady Jets to their third national tournament appearance.

“This brings to light when you are the underdog you take it one game at a time. That’s how we took the regional tournament. We never got cocky.We won the game in front of us and we then focused on the next game.’’

Eastern Arizona made the tournament as a zone qualifier after losing to No. 4 seed Central Arizona 73-71 in the Region I championship.

“They have a lot of weapons,’’ Morris said. “They have enough good athletes in the middle that are athletic enough to stretch out on the floor and face the basket.’’

Eastern Arizona is averaging 71 points per game, while allowing 56.9.

They are led by guards Shaunice Robinson (16.2 ppg) and Shakita Cox (13.7). Natalia Hausmann, another guard, is the third leading scorer with a 9.3 average.

The Lady Gila Monsters are shooting 68.2 percent from the field, and 29 percent from three-point range. They are 63.3 percent from the foul line.

Morris said his squad should match up well with the Lady Gila Monsters.

The Lady Jets are led by the 1-2 punch of freshman guard Breck Clark (18.6 ppg), who was voted the most valuable player of the regional tournament after scoring  77 points in three games, and Rylie Swanson (16.5), who had 65 points in the tournament.

Yet the key to NOC Enid’s late surge has been the sudden rise of role players.

Kiara Moore, who averaged eight points in the regular season, had 45 points in the tournament, including a season-high 21 points against Eastern in the finals.

Tierra Coffey, who is averaging 6.8 points per game, had 16 agaisnt Eastern.

Kori Fast averaged two points in the regular season, but had a career-high 15 points against NEO in the semifinals.

“That we put it together at such a high level at regionals didn’t surprise me,’’ Morris said.

“I think the adversity we went through during the season (losing seniors Kati Sullivan and Paige Eaton to season-ending injuries and finishing fifth in the conference), prepared us more than anything for this. We have grown a lot as a team. We matured and bonded as a team. Chemistry is like planting a seed. You have to cultivate it. You can’t make it grow.

The Lady Jets come into the tournament confident, “but every team is coming here with confidence. It’s important you don’t get overconfident,’’ Morris said.

NOC Enid practiced this week “with good intensity,’’ Morris said. They put in a “few new wrinkles, but we don’t want to change what we have been doing.’’

“It’s going to be two teams with their backs against the wall,’’ Morris said. “It will come down to who hits shots and executing. It’s a matter of going back to fundamentals ... who gets the 50-50 balls, who blocks out, who hits their free throws ... the little things you have to clean up and take care of.’’

The Lady Jets reached the Final Four in their last visit to nationals in 2011, but were eliminated in the first round in 2010.

“As an individual, I feel a lot more comfortable,’’ Morris said. “Just knowing what you have to prepare for ... the paperwork, the hotel reservations, the coaches meetings. The first time I had no idea what to expect. That doesn’t make you match up with an opponent better, but you’re more confident about getting things in order.’’

The NOC Enid-Eastern Arizona winner will face No. 3 seed Hutchinson, Kan., at 5 p.m. Wednesday in the second round.

“We haven’t talked national championship,’’ Morris said. “If we play like we did last week, I would consider it a success. We’re not feeling any pressure. We want to win, we just want to make sure we play well and leave nothing on the floor.’’

Morris said the 10 a.m. start is neither an advantage or disadvantage. However, it could be an issue for the Gila Monsters, who will be on 8 a.m. body clock (in Arizona).

“All we have to do is wake up and make it there on time,’’ Morrs said.

The game can be heard on KCRC Radio (1390 AM).