SHAWNEE — For the third straight year, the No. 1-seeded Northeastern Oklahoma A&M Lady Norse advanced to the Women's Division I Region II Tournament championship game following a 73-42 victory over Northern Oklahoma College-Tonkawa Friday, March 9.
While winning their eighth consecutive post-season Region II Tournament game, the Lady Norse improved to 26-4 on the season.
Also for the third straight year, two old friends collide for the regional title at 2 p.m. Saturday after No. 2 seed Northern Oklahoma College-Enid (27-5) eliminated No. 3 seed Seminole State College, 70-60, in Friday's other semifinal game.
Last season the Lady Norse won the Region II championship with an 86-59 victory over the NOC-Enid Lady Jets.
"Scott (NOC-Enid head coach Scott Morris) and I have known each other for quite a while and we have a mutual respect for each other," Lady Norse head coach Jim Rowland said. "That respect carries over to each other's programs.
“I'm sure that he's going to throw a couple of new wrinkles at us." Rowland said with a wry smile on his face. "We can't afford to play defensively against NOC-Enid like we did the first half against NOC-Tonkawa and expect to win."
Since dropping a 96-83 decision to NOC-Enid in the 2013-14 Region II Tournament semifinals, the Lady Norse have won 11 straight games against the Lady Jets.
"It's almost impossible to win three straight games against an opponent in one season," Rowland said. "We've been fortunate to put together a string of wins against Enid thus far."
During the regular season, the Lady Norse defeated the Lady Jets, 68-58 on Jan. 22 in Enid before posting a 65-51 win on Feb. 22 in the NEO Field House.
Against No. 5 seed Northern Oklahoma College-Tonkawa (13-16), the Lady Norse saw an eight-point first-quarter lead evaporate to a 19-18 advantage heading into the second quarter.
The Lady Mavericks opened the game by shooting 61.5 percent (8 of 13) from the field in the first quarter to hang with the Lady Norse.
Sabella Reigosa scored 14 of the first 18 Lady Mavericks points while all five Lady Norse starters scored at least three points each.
"We allowed the young lady from Spain (Reigosa) to come out and score 14 points in the first 10 minutes," Rowland said. "So I told our team at halftime that we shouldn't allow her to score 16 points in a half to allow them to stay in the game."
Eight points by veteran center Mariam Gnanou, along with seven points by sophomore guard Emerita Larranga and six points each by Bethy Mununga and Megan Jackson and five from Mikayla Shulanberger, allowed NEO to carry a slim 32-28 margin to the locker room at halftime.
"I told them we had to win the third quarter big and we held Tonkawa to only five points. That was a push in the game," Rowland said. "Then, we followed that up with nine points in the final 10 minutes of the game."
"Tonkawa started fouling to try and control the game and slow the pace down," Rowland said. "But we did a good job on hitting our free throws down the stretch to keep the game out of reach."
Along with four starters scoring in double figures, the Lady Norse had three record double-double performances.
Mununga scored 19 points and produced 12 rebounds while Larranga contributed 19 points and 10 boards for NEO.
Gnanou generated 18 points and 10 rebounds for the Lady Norse while Shulanberger added 10 points, Jackson six and Lidia Guiral one point.
NEO sank 28 of 59 (48 percent) from the field, including 7 of 14 from 3-point area. The Lady Norse connected on 10 of 18 free throws.
Reigosa's 16 points and nine rebounds led the Lady Mavericks while Tahanee Bennell scored 10.
The Lady Mavericks were limited to 33 percent shooting from the field — 17 of 51, including 4 of 24 from the 3-point range. NOC-Tonkawa was 4-for-4 at the free throw line.