TEMPLE — After Temple’s six-point loss to Harker Heights on Nov. 27 in the teams’ District 12-6A opener, first-year Tem-Cats coach RaShonta LeBlanc said her team was in the early stages of finding its identity.
The search had yielded a few disappointing results to that point. And over the weeks that have followed, steps forward proceeded by steps back left Temple in the bottom half of the league standings, though not without some indicators that personal discovery and an upswing might not be that far off.
Most recently, until Tuesday night that is, an example of such was last Friday’s 49-43 victory over Copperas Cove, which entered Wildcat Gym with a piece of first place — then exited without it.
The Tem-Cats, on the heels of that important win that snapped a three-game 12-6A losing streak, backed up the performance with a 44-42 white-knuckle nod in a rematch versus the visiting Harker Heights Lady Knights, who also vacated Temple’s home floor without the first-place tag it brought with it on the bus ride over.
“It’s starting to come together. I knew it would, if we stayed true to Temple basketball,” LeBlanc said. “They have it.”
Temple (9-12, 4-5) had a 41-33 lead entering the fourth quarter then held on for dear life as the Lady Knights (17-7, 6-3) mounted a bit of a rally over the final 8 minutes. Harker Heights, which outscored the Tem-Cats 9-3 in the final period, had possession with about 25 seconds remaining but shots by Cynaye Bobbitt and Empress Roberts in the waning moments rimmed out, and time expired.
“We didn’t execute on offense and we did not play defense to our capabilities,” Heights coach Shirretha Nelson said. “Temple did a great job. I expected them to play hard. They are at home. They’re Temple. They’re going to play hard, play aggressive. We just didn’t play good, quality basketball.”
Celise Bobbitt led all scorers with 18 points but no other Lady Knights reached double digits. Destiny Pemberton was the next highest with seven and Roberts chipped in six.
Taliyah Johnson, who had 15 points in the teams’ first encounter, matched that Tuesday to pace Temple, which used points from six players in all. Coryn Grovey posted 10, including two second-quarter 3s, and Chloe Mayfield contributed eight points from close range.
“We had really good energy on and off the court. Everybody was cheering each other on. When we got our heads down, everybody was picking each other up,” Johnson said.
Added LeBlanc: “I enjoyed the girls on the bench. They were the motivation behind what was going on on that floor. And we had to have that a little more. They were motivating me, pumping me up. The bench, even though they didn’t play much, they had a major role in tonight’s win.”
Spirit and extra pep are well and good, but Temple also played better compared with its first go-around with the Lady Knights, whose rebounding and press defense caused fits back in November.
“We knew they wanted to drive so we wanted to force them to take shots. At the same time, we needed to box out,” LeBlanc said. “We are more solid, to me, on the defensive end. That’s coming along. They are buying into ‘OK, defense is how we’re going to win ballgames.’ If we hold people to under 50 points, we have a good chance of winning.”
The Tem-Cats solved the press conundrum in the early going and made their first four shots to open the contest, finishing the first period 8-of-10 to lead 16-10.
Heights pulled within 20-19 after Celise Bobbitt’s steal and layup at 4:29 of the second. But Temple closed the first half on an 11-4 run to grab a 31-23 advantage into halftime.
The Lady Knights were twice just down three in the third, the second time at 35-32. Temple, however, scored six of the frame’s final eight points to extend its advantage back to eight into the fourth.
The Tem-Cats shot just 1-of-3 from the floor and 1-of-6 at the free throw line in the fourth, and Johnson’s three-point play with about 5 minutes left ended up being Temple’s final points. Celise Bobbitt’s bucket made it 44-42 with 2:05 to go. It was scoreless the rest of the way.
“We made poor decisions and the scoreboard shows that,” Nelson said. “We gave up way too many points, more than we should have, and that makes it hard if you’re not creating and producing on offense.”
Temple will try to make it three wins in a row at 6:30 p.m. Friday against Shoemaker in the last of four consecutive home games. Heights is at Belton on Friday. Waco Midway leads the district at 7-2.
“We have to build. It’s a building thing.” LeBlanc said. “The girls have put themselves in a good position, so just keep building on that.”