RISE AND FIRE: Temple College sophomore Marlaina Spearman (right) takes a contested jump shot over Weatherford defender Adreanna Waddle (20) during the first half of the host Lady Leopards' 88-65 loss to the Lady Coyotes in a first-round Northern Texas Junior College Athletic Conference Tournament game on Wednesday evening at TC Gym. Spearman made two 3-point baskets in the first half and scored eight points overall for Temple (14-7), which led 20-15 after the first quarter before Weatherford (14-7) took control by outscoring the Lady Leopards 21-10 in the second quarter and 25-9 in the third. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
By GREG WILLE
Despite educated guesses and expert prognostications, it remains quite difficult to predict live sports. For example, take Tuesday night, when 11th-seeded UCLA upset No. 1 seed Michigan 51-49 to reach the Final Four of the men's NCAA Tournament.
When Temple College sophomore Marlaina Spearman made two 3-point baskets in a 40-second span during the middle portion of the second quarter against Weatherford on Wednesday evening, the Lady Leopards led 28-24 and there was no reason to think that TC wouldn't continue to play well in its first-round home game in the Northern Texas Junior College Athletic Conference Tournament.
Alas, things never were the same for the Lady Leopards after Spearman's second 3 swished through the net, including the fact that Starr Jacobs scored only four points in the final three quarters after the standout sophomore forward exploded for 40 in TC's 83-82 home victory Saturday over Weatherford.
Resilient Weatherford stunned Temple by finishing the first half with a 12-1 run to seize a six-point lead and then used stellar offensive rebounding and shooting to dominate the third quarter 25-9 on its way to running away for an 88-65 win at TC Gym that ended Temple's season.
Afterward, TC first-year head coach Amber Taylor lamented the Lady Leopards' struggles late in the first half, something they were unable to overcome against a resurgent Lady Coyotes squad that never let up after halftime.
“Eighteen out of the 20 minutes in the first half, I thought we played good. I thought we won. We talk about winning the quarter, winning minutes, winning the first half. For 18 out of the 20 minutes, I really feel like we won the first half, without question,” said Taylor, whose team committed 10 first-half turnovers and 16 overall. “In the last 2 minutes, we turned the ball over, took some bad shots and Weatherford was able to capitalize.
“But still, you go into halftime down six and it's a ballgame. You're OK. That's what we talked about: 'We're fine. We've just got to continue to be better. That's it.' We talked about finishing the last 20 minutes.”
Instead, fifth-seeded Weatherford (14-7) essentially finished off fourth-seeded Temple (14-7) by the end of the third quarter, grabbing a commanding 61-39 lead and never letting the Lady Leopards get closer than 17 in the fourth.
“I think any time you play somebody back-to-back, it's challenging. It doesn't matter who it is,” said Taylor, whose team lost 76-69 at Weatherford on Feb. 27. “Especially if you've won the first match, to come back and beat them again is definitely challenging for any team.”
Diamond Sweats ignited to score 19 of her 20 points in the second half and Adela Valkova produced 12 of her 20 points after halftime for the Lady Coyotes, who outscored TC 46-19 during the middle two quarters.
Jasmyne Robinson had only 12 points after pouring in 30 at TC on Saturday, but the athletic freshman point guard made longtime Weatherford head coach Bob McKinley happy by running the offense efficiently and setting up her teammates for prime scoring opportunities.
“I liked Jasmyne, because she had 11 assists,” said McKinley, whose team will travel to NTJCAC champion Hill (20-2) – which pounded Cisco 97-55 – on Saturday for a conference tournament semifinal. “Diamond and Adela did a really good job for us. Those were the main three that scored, but we had a couple players come off the bench really well.”
DUEL IN THE LANE: Temple College sophomore post Amaya West defends Weatherford sophomore forward Adela Valkova (with ball) from the Czech Republic during the host Lady Leopards' 88-65 loss to the Lady Coyotes in a Northern Texas Junior College Athletic Conference Tournament quarterfinal Wednesday evening at TC Gym. Valkova tied Diamond Sweats with a team-high 20 points for No. 5 seed Weatherford (14-7), which avenged its 83-82 loss at Temple last Saturday and will play at top-seeded Hill in an NTJCAC semifinal Saturday. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
Although its one-point loss at Temple on Saturday prevented Weatherford from hosting a first-round game in the conference tournament, McKinley was impressed by how his players turned that defeat into motivational fuel for the quick-turnaround rematch on the same court.
“Sure, most definitely,” he said. “That was a pretty heartbreaking loss to come back from. It was probably more beneficial losing it than it would have been winning it.”
A huge factor in how the quarterfinal played out was the relative ineffectiveness of the 6-foot-2 Jacobs compared to how well she performed against Weatherford in her 40-point, 18-rebound, eight-steal tour de force Saturday.
Jacobs scored seven points in the first quarter as TC got off to a strong start in the rematch, but she went to the bench after being called for her second foul with 8:04 remaining in the second quarter and again took a seat after absorbing her third foul 2:55 before halftime.
Jacobs scored two baskets in the first 5:20 of the third quarter but otherwise was a non-factor in the second half, playing sparingly as she finished with 11 points, far below her previous season average of 24.4 per game.
When asked about how Jacobs played and how the foul trouble affected her, Taylor declined to comment.
“I'm not going to answer that,” she said.
McKinley said the off night by TC's top player was a vital part of Weatherford's success.
“Well, one thing was that Starr didn't get 40,” he said. “That's always a good start, cutting her (point total) in more than half.”
Kennedi Green led Temple with 14 points – nine in the fourth quarter after the game was out of reach. Fellow sophomore Jordan Walker scored 12 for TC, which got eight points apiece from sophomores Jordyn Carter and Spearman.
Jacobs and the Lady Leopards certainly seemed ready to play early. Jacobs scored on a third-effort putback 19 seconds into the game, then cut in to score off an inbound pass for a 5-0 lead. Carter's basket off a Walker pass and then a running bank shot by Jacobs made it 9-2. TC's lead grew to 15-5 after Green's driving bucket and Spearman's fast-break layup off a Carter dish.
Another driving basket by Carter and Walker's two free throws gave the Lady Leopards a 20-11 advantage with 1:08 left in the first quarter, but that's when Weatherford – which was hindered by eight first-quarter turnovers – began to make its move that stole the positive momentum away from Temple.
Leire Martinez Anaut (10 points) scored on a baseline drive and grabbed a long pass before scoring a layup to trim the Lady Coyotes' deficit to 20-15 after the opening period. Robinson make a long 3-pointer a minute into the second for a 20-18 game, one minute before Jacobs departed after incurring her second foul. A 3-pointer by Briarley Rogers was answered by Spearman's first 3, then those two traded 3s again for a 28-24 TC edge 4:10 before halftime.
“That kind of turned the game around," McKinley said. "Briarley hit those 3s back-to-back and I thought that pushed it over the hump and really got us going."
Valkova, a skilled 6-2 forward from the Czech Republic, scored a putback hoop before Jacobs was called for her third foul after bumping into a Weatherford player at the 2:55 mark, sending her to the bench for the remainder of the half.
“Both players were battling for a rebound, I think. But, you know, that's basketball,” Taylor said. “You're going to get calls, and you're not going to get calls. That's just basketball. So we just had to play through it.”
Weatherford then took full advantage of Jacobs' absence, closing the half with a 10-0 run to go from trailing 30-26 to leading 36-30. Robinson dribbled the length of the floor for a layup, Adreanna Waddle scored inside and Rogers then made TC pay for Walker's errant pass that led to a layin by Rogers with 2.2 seconds left.
The Lady Leopards had an opportunity to get right back in the game in the third quarter, and Jacobs' steal and layup 36 seconds into it was a positive start. However, Weatherford gained separation thanks to its ensuing 11-0 run that featured three baskets by the varsatile Sweats: a difficult banker, an open 17-foot jumper and an open 3-pointer from the right wing for a 47-32 lead.
Jacobs finally ended that spurt with a running banker at the 4:43 mark, but she never scored again and the opportunistic Valkova began to pummel TC on the offensive boards by making three putback baskets in a span of 2:07 as the Lady Coyotes took full control at 55-36.
“They're big, and what they do, they run it well,” Taylor said. “I didn't think we rebounded as well today as we could have, definitely. And we did (rebound well) on Saturday.”
Amaya West's inside bucket was TC's only other field goal as it struggled to a 10-point third, and a cutting score by Harker Heights graduate Celise Bobbitt staked Weatherford to a 61-39 lead through three quarters.
“Obviously they were hitting shots,” Taylor said, “but we talked about it at halftime that defensively (Weatherford) did nothing different than when we played them on Saturday and offensively they did nothing different than when we played them on Saturday.”
Temple made a brief push to get back within striking distance early in the fourth, using baskets by Kirsten Zaruba, Taylor Phouangaphayvong, Carter and Walker plus two Walker free throws to make it a 17-point game at 66-49 with 6:47 remaining. However, Weatherford stormed right back with a 10-0 run – featuring baskets by five players – in a 1:43 span to push the lead to 76-49 and seal the outcome.
Although Temple lost the rubber match with Weatherford and exited the conference tournament in the first round, Taylor – who succeeded longtime TC head coach Kim Sebek last spring – considers her first season in Temple a success on many fronts. The Lady Leopards tied for third place in the nine-team NTJCAC (Ranger won a coin flip to gain the No. 3 seed over TC) while navigating a season that was heavily affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We finished top four in conference (in the regular season), which is something that hasn't been done (by Temple since 2016). We're just proud of the kids for the year. It's big. I told them, 'You've done something that hasn't been done here in a long time,'” Taylor said. “I think that sets the tone and sets the precedent for the program, for recruiting and for the future, and they were a part of that.
“I told them after the game, 'Y'all have lived through one of the hardest years that you'll ever have to live through.' With everything online (academically) and COVID testing and games canceled or rescheduled, that's tough for an 18- to 20-year-old to have to deal with every day," she added. "I'm proud of them for their resiliency and I'm proud of them for how they came to compete and battle every day, whether it was in the classroom or at practice. At the end of the day, I'm just proud of them.”
WOMEN'S COLLEGE BASKETBALL
Northern Texas Junior College
Athletic Conference Tournament
Weatherford 88, Temple College 65
Weatherford 15 21 25 27 – 88
Temple 20 10 9 26 – 65
Weatherford (14-7) – Diamond Sweats 20, Adela Valkova 20, Jasmyne Robinson 12, Leire Martinez Anaut 10, Celise Bobbitt 9, Briarley Rogers 8, Adreanna Waddle 3, Kyra Lucero 2, Ksenija Djokic 2, Zamoria McGrue 2.
Temple (14-7) – Kennedi Green 14, Jordan Walker 12, Starr Jacobs 11, Jordyn Carter 8, Marlaina Spearman 8, Haley Rucker 5, Amaya West 3, Taylor Phouangaphayvong 2, Kirsten Zaruba 2.
3-point goals – Weatherford 4 (Rogers 2, Robinson 1, Sweats 1); Temple 4 (Green 2, Spearman 2).
Free throws – Weatherford 12-17; Temple 17-22.
Notes – Fifth-seeded Weatherford defeats fourth-seeded Temple in NTJCAC Tournament quarterfinal at TC Gym, advances to semifinal at top-seeded Hill (20-2) on Saturday; Temple finishes first season with coach Amber Taylor with 14-7 record.