By Nick Talbot
The Cove Herald
KILLEEN - "They're too big, Sarai. They are too big," Copperas Cove assistant coach Stacy Myers yelled from the bench. "You can't drive in."
It was to no avail. Rodriguez was already halfway through the lane, and as she went up for a shot, Ellison's 6-foot-1 post Alayshia Hunter grabbed the ball out of the air. Hunter then ran down the court, grabbed an offensive rebound and was fouled.
She sank both shots, and behind her 16 points and 13 rebounds Tuesday the Lady Eagles defeated the Lady Dawgs 48-39 at Ellison to take control of the fourth and final playoff spot in District 12-5A.
"(We needed this) to get in solid for the playoffs ... and the girls knew it," said Ellison head coach Sherry McKinnon. "I told them before the game that our playoff run was at stake and I think stepped it up.
"I think we played a little sloppy ... but it was a win. An ugly win."
Copperas Cove (18-12, 5-5 12-5A) could not overcome the Lady Eagles presence inside the paint. Ellison (22-8, 6-4) outrebounded Copperas Cove 41-18, including 15 offensive boards - eight by Hunter alone.
"They did a great job with that pick-and-roll," said Copperas Cove coach Teresa Durham. "We just couldn't defend it. We tried to work on it, but they have just a little more size than what we have."
However, neither team could hit a shot early on. Struggling with shooting woes all season, McKinnon devised a new offensive game plan Tuesday. She wanted her team to drive and create shots closer to the basket.
It was a rough adjustment at first.
Ellison shot 20 percent from the floor in the first half.
"I think we were trying to do something different and it wasn't working for us," Hunter said. "Then, it finally started grooving in the third quarter. It is different because we are used to popping the 3 and shooting the outside jumper and we had to go to the basket and box out and rebound. And there was some difficult stuff down there."
She added: "It was really physical, you had to stay solid because even if you tried to bump in and cause a foul they were not going to call it. You had to make the basket or get your own rebound."
Thanks to a strong defensive effort, though, the Lady Eagles still led 21-20 at halftime. Copperas Cove, usually one of the best shooting teams in 12-5A, hit only 16 percent from the floor and had only one 3-pointer.
Rodriguez provided the lone offensive highlight of the first half for the Lady Dawgs when after getting a steal she drove through the lane and hit a layup as the buzzer sounded.
Brittany Gamble gave Cove the lead on the opening possession of the second half. However, from there on out, the Lady Eagles dominated with their size and physical presence. Jordanna Porter hit a layup and a short jumper during and 8-0 run that pushed Ellison back in front 29-22.
"It think in the beginning both teams realized how important this game was and were tentative," Durham said. "Then in that third quarter they just relaxed and started playing."
Then Hunter, who had started the game only 3-of-13 from the floor, hit her last three shots and the Lady Eagles closed out the game at the free-throw line - where they hit 14-of-17, including 5-of-7 in the closing minutes.
"Yes, we still didn't shoot real well," McKinnon said. "However, we got to the hole more and we shot more free throws ... and I think that made a difference."
Temple 49, Copperas Cove 34 - Temple hit three 3-pointers in the first three minutes.
The Lady Dawgs never responded.
With their outside shooters hitting, the Tem-Cats went over the top to 6-foot posts KeTara Chapel and Tyesha Taylor, who each scored 13 points Jan. 20, to finish off Copperas Cove at Bulldawg Gymnasium.
While the Tem-Cats (23-8, 7-3) posts dominated, it was the outside shooting that got Temple rolling. The Tem-Cats hit 71 percent of their 3-point attempts and shot 56 percent overall from the floor in the blowout win.
"(Temple) shot some incredible percentage that first half," said Durham. "We worked on a couple of things we were going to try to do, but most of that included double teaming or helping on the inside and I was hoping one or two of their guards wouldn't shoot the ball so well, but they did."