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ROUND TWO, FIGHT: Lady Tigers ready for rematch with Booker T. Washington

Jan. 15—Earlier this season, the Tahlequah Lady Lady Tigers played one of their toughest opponents of the season. Despite being just three games into the year, the Lady Tigers played what is expected to be one of their tougher foes in the Booker T. Hornets.

Coming into the year the Hornets were the favorites to win the new district set up. Despite this, the Lady Tigers played a close game and took down the Hornets through a tough four quarters.

The Tahlequah Invite Championship gave the Lady Tigers a first look at a team that figures to be a thorn in their side as the season goes on. Weather permitting, the Hornets will return to THS for the first time since that loss looking for revenge on Tuesday, Jan. 16. THS Head Coach David Qualls knows the matchup will be tough on Tuesday.

"They will be ready for us, we will be ready for them," Qualls said. "We expect a great game, they have great players. They are very quick and athletic, we will have to keep up with them."

In that championship game, the Lady Tigers held on to win 45-41 making up for the loss from last season's championship. During that game, senior Kori Rainwater led the way with 23 points.

While the Lady Tigers star player was getting buckets, the Hornets' star player wasn't. BTWHS' Markayla Johnson is thought of as one of the best players in the district this season. On top of that, Qualls pegged her as a potential future McDonald's All-American selection. Despite this, the Lady Tigers locked her down thanks to strong defense from Jaydyn Buttery. During the first half, Johnson picked up just two points. While she did rebound for 12 second-half points, the damage was done.

This season Buttery has been key in locking down THS' opponents' best players. A similar performance from Buttery will be key if the Lady Tigers hope to keep a lid on Johnson.

"That is important, she is the type of player you can't shut down," Qualls said. "You have to hope to contain her and she misses some shots. She is a great player. Jaydyn is a big part of that. We'll have to be on the same page to have a chance to win Tuesday."

Since the Lady Tigers played that first game, they have just gotten better as a team. The Lady Tigers' improvement is no small part of Buttery's improving as the season goes on.

While Buttery has been playing well all season, she did start the season not far removed from recovering from an ACL surgery. While it may have taken some time for her to get back up to speed, Buttery looks like the healthy player who led the Lady Tigers with 15 points a game a season ago.

Buttery has consistently been scoring at least 15 ppg including in the Lady Tigers' most recent win over Bishop Kelly. Qualls has seen the improvement as the season has gone on.

"She looks good, she is shooting the three right now at a high percentage," Qualls said on Buttery. "She is scoring around the paint, making the easy ones, hitting free throws. She plays good defense too, she is a tough match-up. She can post up, shoot, or go to the basket. She is in a good spot and we are reaping the benefits."

Buttery's improvements have brought benefits for the Lady Tigers. Buttery's increased production from the three-point range has seen other Lady Tigers step up from beyond the arc too. All five of THS' starters can and will hit three-pointers.

"Since early in the season we are executing better. Offensively we have been shooting the outside shoot better making more three-pointers," Qualls said.

Along with the improved offense, the Lady Tigers have also continued to build on a defense that has been strong all season. Even during games where the Lady Tigers are not getting the ball to drop, they are still staying in games thanks to a lockdown unit.

Kori Rainwater has been tasked with patrolling the paint while Buttery is usually the one on the opponents' best players. Usually, Madi Matthews is there to play solid coverage for foes' other scoring weapons.

While Qualls said earlier this season that the Lady Tigers were going to win with their offense, their defense continues to be lights out.

"Defensively we have been gutting out games and winning games in different ways. It shows our exuberance and our maturity. I think we are a better defensive team than the beginning of the season," Qualls said.

The Lady Tigers and the Hornets tip off at 6 p.m. on Tuesday at THS.

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