By GREG WEBB
During the couple of hours fans were at the Betty Jo Crumm Graber Athletic Center to take in the North Texas Junior College Athletic Conference (NTJCAC) opener between Weatherford College and McLennan College, the predicted cold front arrived outside.
But the chill apparently pervaded the inside of the gymnasium as well, evidenced by the lack of offense for either team in the first half, as players had trouble finding rhythm and range. The WC Lady Coyotes ultimately thawed the most, enough to win their inaugural 2013 conference game, 74-67.
“I didn’t think we were ever going to start scoring,” said WC head coach Bob McKinley. “We missed 16 layups in the first half. That will get you every time.”
Had either squad found their touch early on, a considerable advantage may have been in the offing, but when the shooting did warm up, the range was found by both sides.
Weatherford had to play a bit of catchup early on, but with the help of Itiana Taylor and Alexia Kelley, the Lady Coyotes took a 4-point advantage into the half-time break.
With Kelley contributing 10 points to the mix before the break, Taylor poured in 13 of her own, and was just getting started, getting an even hotter hand and finishing with 30 points to lead all scorers.
“Itiana played really well, especially in the second half,” McKinley said of the 6-foot freshman from Plugerville, “She got very aggressive and really helped us.”
Taylor is a welcome addition back into the Lady Coyotes’ fold. Just in time for conference play, she is healthy and having an immediate impact.
[Itiana] missed all of our games in the first half of the season, except one,” said the long-time WC coach. “She played in a couple of scrimmages to start the year and messed up her ankle.
“She played in the final game before the holidays. Good to have her back.”
As both teams warmed up, so too, did the scoreboard in the second half. Perimeter shooters for both teams began hitting 3-pointers, quickly making up for the lost time in the first 10 minutes of the contest.
WC finally played into a bit of breathing space by the eight-minute mark of the last half, but McLennan, through its own efforts and occasional missteps by the Lady Coyotes, kept closing the gap.
“We made some poor choices that let them stay close,” McKinley said. “We had an eight-point lead and made three bad choices in a row, and they almost caught back up.”
But the WC coach was not surprised by the Lady Highlanders’ effort, especially when squaring off against Weatherford College — and in this building.
“McLennan seems to always play us really close,” he said. “It doesn’t matter how good they are or how good, or bad, we are they seem to always play us like it’s their ‘game of the year.’
“But we didn’t have enough intensity today, and our focus was not where it should be.
“I don’t really know why either, because we worked really hard this past week. We are going to have to step up our energy level quite a bit.”
In the final four minutes of the match, McLennan closed to within three points, only to see Weatherford make a stop or a steal and inflate the lead again. Point guard Bre Brooks was sent to the line with 40 seconds remaining, draining both free throws for a five-point advantage.
McLennan stayed in fouling mode for the remainder of the contest, but WC took advantage of the gifts enough to keep the lead, and close out the Lady Highlanders.
The Weatherford College women resume their conference schedule on Wednesday, traveling to Terrell to take on Southwestern Christian College in a 5:30 p.m. match
The WC men played on Saturday to open their conference slate, after the Lady Coyotes game. The results were not available by press time. The Coyotes also play on Wednesday
Both teams return home on Sat., Jan 19, hosting Hill College at 2 p.m. and 4 p.m.