TULSA — Bailey Taylor made the first gesture to show McKenzie Cooper she was still a part of the team.
Cooper made the second to show her Shawnee teammates they could still win another title.
Both paid off for the Class 5A No. 1 Wolves on Friday, as they held on for a 50-46 overtime win over Carl Albert to advance to the championship game.
Taylor’s gesture came first. At the hotel the day after Cooper’s season was ended by a knee injury, the sophomore asked to wear Cooper’s No. 20.
Then in the locker room before the game, Cooper pulled aside Taylor and senior Micaela Yu for one-on-one conversations.
“She told me it was my senior year and not to let this mess things up,” Yu said.
Cooper decided to have the talks after watching the teammates respond to the news she wouldn’t be able to return.
“Just seeing their reactions last night and seeing how they were acting today — kind of nervous — it was something I thought I needed to do,” Cooper said.
She said she was emotional an hour earlier when Taylor asked to wear her jersey.
Shawnee coach Wendi Wells certainly would’ve rather had Cooper on the court, but she said the injury was freeing in a sense for her team.
“They were relaxed,” Wells said. “They don’t see it as there’s this pressure on them now to repeat.”
Taylor played more relaxed than she has for most of the year, though Wells said that’s been developing over the past few weeks.
Taylor scored 15 points, hitting a pair of critical fourth-quarter 3-pointers, and added what proved to be the game-winner with less than a minute left.
Yu, the lone senior on Shawnee’s roster, scored 19 and controlled the inside with nine rebounds.
Cooper told the pair they needed to be more aggressive, Yu said.
“Mac is such a huge part of our team,” Yu said. “We needed to do it for her. We didn’t work our butts off for nothing.”
Carl Albert star Gioya Carter nearly spoiled Shawnee’s moment.
The Oklahoma signee drilled a 3-pointer in the closing seconds of regulation to force overtime but couldn’t hit the big shot in overtime as Shawnee held on with the help of freshman Monique Tramble’s free-throw shooting in the final minute.
Carter finished with 25 points.