Union’s girls basketball team has players who can put the ball in the basket, but its focus in Joe Redmond’s four coaching seasons continues to be on defense.
“Our main particulars are to keep ‘em out of the paint and close out the 3-pointers,” senior forward Kaylen Nelson said. “When we have to score, we will do that, but our main consideration is defense for sure.”
Nelson provided the scoring Friday with 21 points and nine rebounds and Class 6A’s No. 2-ranked team kept Mustang’s shooters at bay in a 50-37 victory over the No. 5 Broncos in the semifinals of the Jenks/Union Invitational at the UMAC.
Takyla Pitts added 13 points and nine rebounds and Makenzie Malham pitched six assists to go with four points as Union improved to 14-0, its best start in 13 years.
Nelson, Pitts and company advanced to play in the tournament final at 4 p.m. Saturday at the UMAC against No. 3 Edmond North (13-2), which raced to a 60-35 win over No. 14 Putnam West in the other semifinal at Jenks.
Karley Johnson scored 11 and Randi Harding had 10 to pace the Lady Broncos (10-3), whose only other losses this season are to No. 1 Norman and Edmond North.
Union’s offense struggled at times, but Redmond said he was pleased with the overall effort in what turned into an intense defensive battle.
“Mustang’s a really good team. They’re big and strong, handle the ball and shoot it well and they’re well coached (by Katie Bass),” Redmond said. “They’re not gonna roll over and let you win a game. You’re gonna have to come and beat them. So I’m proud of our girls for showing up and putting together 32 minutes. It wasn’t always the cleanest 32 minutes, but it was good enough to get the job done.”
Union went just 16-for-42 from the field, but held the visitors to an even lower 14-for-44 (31.8%) and outrebounded them 37-21. Mustang led on Talia Pogi’s opening 3-pointer, but Union answered with 14 consecutive points and was ahead to stay.
Nelson had 12 points by halftime and the lead was 23-9. It went to 37-19 in the third quarter before Mustang mounted a comeback.
The Broncos pulled within eight on Jaki Rollins’ three-point play with three minutes left, and Union was looking ragged on both ends, but Redmond said he wasn’t worried.
“You get into tournaments like this to put your girls in situations that might arise against top-eight teams in the state tournament,” he said. “I had confidence in the girls we had out there to know the situation, the time and score and what we needed to win the game.”
Union scored the next eight points on free throws, including four straight from Nelson, who was 8-for-8 in the game.
The game marked the return of former Union girls coach Jamie Hill to the UMAC as a Mustang assistant. Hill coached Union for two seasons (2016-17) and Berryhill for three (2018-20) before moving west in the offseason. She plans to be married in the spring.
Edmond North 60, Putnam West 35: Laci Steele scored 21 and Elle Papahronis added 16 to pace the Huskies, who led 27-20 at halftime and started pulling away in the third quarter.
Caya Smith scored 15 to pace the Patriots (7-7).
UNION 50, MUSTANG 37
Mustang 5 4 13 15 — 37
Union 14 9 14 13 — 50
Mustang (10-3): Karley Johnson 11, Randi Harding 10, Jaki Rollins 8, Kate Niehues 3, Talia Pogi 3, Jordyn Rollins 2.
Union (14-0): Kaylen Nelson 21, Takyla Pitts 13, Jordynn Conner 4, Makenzie Malham 4, Sydni Smith 4, Germari Harris 2, Aubrey Hishaw 2.
EDMOND NORTH 60, PUTNAM WEST 35
Edmond North 9 18 18 15 — 60
Putnam West 10 10 7 8 — 35
North (13-2): Steele 21, E. Papahronis 16, Casaus 8, Heathcock 6, T. Papahronis 4, Melton 3, Robinson 2.
West (7-7): Smith 15, Bert 7, K. Brown 6, A. Brown 3, Hutchins 2.