The thermometer — and the calendar — read winter, but inside the warmth of the China Spring gym it was Summer all day long.
China Spring junior Summer Emblem scored a team-best 16 points and made a bevy of savvy plays in igniting the Lady Cougars to a 54-46 win over District 17-4A rival La Vega on Tuesday night.
“Summer Emblem played great. She’s a smart player, and a great kid,” China Spring coach Kristi Mize said.
Eight different players dropped in at least one bucket for China Spring (17-6 overall, 3-0 in district), which helped offset another powerful performance from Ta’Naiya Norwood, La Vega senior post. Norwood, a returning Super Centex and all-state standout, set the nets ablaze in last year’s game at China Spring with 38 points. This time, the Lady Cougars limited her to “only” 25 points — another great effort, to be sure, but one that wouldn’t allow Norwood to beat China Spring by herself.
“They came out and shot well. Everybody was shooting well,” China Spring’s Mize said of La Vega. “They shot us out of a zone. … I thought defensively, once we went man, we manned up. We haven’t played man in six games. I thought we executed well, and did a good job.”
The teams ran an offensive clinic in the first half, with crisp passing and shooting all the way around. And it seemed like for every shot La Vega hit, China Spring had the answer — and vice versa. Case in point — Emblem opened the game with a pull-up jumper from 14 feet, only to see Norwood connect on a pull-up J on the other end. Then Emblem came down and knocked down a 3-pointer from the top of the arc, while La Vega countered with a corner trey from Octavia Deckard moments later.
La Vega opened up a 27-21 lead with 2:15 to play in the half when Norwood converted a turnaround in the paint while drawing a foul. However, China Spring responded with a 9-2 run to take a 30-29 lead into the halftime break, with Alex Perkins finding a cutting Taylor Webb for the layup at the buzzer.
The action bogged down a bit in the third quarter. China Spring held a slim 35-34 lead late in the period before Abbie Snyder bottomed out a 3-pointer. La Vega’s Montierra Warren tried to answer with a trey of her own on the ensuing possession, but couldn’t draw iron. Then China Spring’s Brylee Smith corralled a timely rebound and putback to extend the Lady Cougars’ lead to 40-34 entering the fourth.
“Second half, we didn’t play the typical La Vega-type defense that I expect us to play,” La Vega coach Jeff Jefferson said. “I thought we had a lot of mental lapses. China Spring executed better than we did in the second half. First half, I thought it was Even Steven. But I thought we would play a lot better in the second half.
“We didn’t get a lot out of the press tonight. Normally we do. China Spring, credit to them, they handled the pressure well.”
China Spring maintained a two-possession lead the rest of the way. Norwood ripped the nets on a 3-pointer with 16 seconds remaining to bring La Vega to within 52-46, but it wasn’t enough. Emblem iced the win with a pair of free throws, and the Lady Cougars stayed perfect in district play.
Like most teams, China Spring didn’t have much luck turning back Norwood when the La Vega senior caught the ball deep in the post. But she launched as many outside shots as she did those in the paint, something that Jefferson would like to see change.
“It’s a matter of Ta’Naiya going to the block and being aggressive,” Jefferson said. “It’s a matter of timing, getting her the ball when she needs it at the right time. I told her all year, ‘You’re going to have two or three people on you.’ We knew they could shoot well. I felt like we could balance it out with her being inside, because we’re a little bigger inside than they were. It’s just a matter of her being disciplined enough to go down in there and not relying on the jump shot.”
Gabby Cleveland hit for 13 points for China Spring, including six critical points in the fourth quarter when the game was on the line. That included a nice pump-fake, up-and-under bucket with Norwood defending, shortly after the La Vega star had rejected Cleveland on a runout layup attempt moments earlier.
Warren chipped in 12 points for La Vega, which will play Robinson on Friday.
China Spring will turn its attention to Connally, as it looks to move to 4-0 in one of the more competitive districts around. It doesn’t hurt that the Lady Cougars are led by a nucleus of upperclassmen who have logged more than a few minutes on the court together.
“They’ve been playing together on varsity for three and four years,” Mize said. “They just have that cohesiveness. These kids love each other. They’re out there for each other, they support each other.”
Crawford 56, Bosqueville 8
Cecelia Villa and Ana Maddox connected for 11 points apiece — both outscoring Bosqueville by themselves — as the Lady Pirates romped to a blowout win in District 17-2A.
The win was No. 302 in the career of Crawford coach Brandon Ely, who picked up his milestone 300th last week at the Thorndale Tournament. Crawford moves to 12-5 on the year and 4-0 in district play.
Lorena 40, Hillsboro 26
Michelle Runyan tossed in 20 points, helping Lorena to a District 17-4A victory over the Lady Eagles.
Alana Armstrong chipped in eight points for Lorena (14-6, 3-1), which again succeeded in holding a team well under its scoring average.
Midway 81, Killeen 45
Sophomore guard Anthony Scott went off for 26 points, sparking a runaway Panther win over the Kangaroos in District 8-6A action.
Scott hit for six 3-pointers in the win.
Midway improved to 16-6 on the year and 2-0 in district play. The Panthers will next play at Belton on Friday.
Bosqueville 61, Crawford 42
Bosqueville freshman Tyler Webb erupted for 30 points, and the Bulldogs stayed unbeaten in District 17-2A by coasting past Crawford.
Jacob Jean supplemented Webb’s big night with 14 points of his own for the Bulldogs, who are now 2-0 in district action.
China Spring 71, La Vega 56
The Cougars made it a China Spring sweep over the visiting Pirates, as Antwan Stephens, Tyrick James and company improved to 2-0 in District 17-4A action.
The China Spring girls also defeated La Vega in the game just prior to the boys’ contest.