WHITESBORO — Early on the Lady Panthers found themselves on the wrong end of the score. Bells was struggling at both ends of the court in a contest where the winner was going to find themselves still in second place almost a third of the way through the 11-2A schedule.

WHITESBORO — Early on the Lady Panthers found themselves on the wrong end of the score. Bells was struggling at both ends of the court in a contest where the winner was going to find themselves still in second place almost a third of the way through the 11-2A schedule.


By halftime the Lady Panthers found themselves in the lead and were able to maintain that advantage the rest of the way in a 51-41 victory over Whitesboro in district action on Friday night.


Carlee Shelby had 16 points and five rebounds for Bells (11-3, 3-1), which goes into the Christmas break having won three straight district contests.


"After Whitewright beat us and we were 0-1, I felt like the girls could have crawled in a hole," Lady Panthers head coach Karri Branam said. "They’ve done a good job responding to what’s been asked of them.


"We struggled last year with pressure. Another year of maturity has helped with these girls."


At the end of the first quarter, however, it looked like Whitesboro would be the team moving to 3-1 in the standings only behind undefeated Howe and staying alongside Pottsboro. The Lady Bearcats forced a turnover per minute, held Bells scoreless the final five minutes of the frame and led 10-4.


But the Lady Panthers found their scoring stroke in the second quarter and jumped to a 26-20 advantage heading to the locker room.


"We changed the tempo," Branam said. "Sometimes it takes our girls a little while to get going. This time it took eight minutes. They never got frazzled."


Shelby had a pair of baskets as the Lady Panthers scored the first six points of the quarter to tie the game. The teams started trading baskets until Ashley Cooper hit back-to-back 3-pointers from the top of the key to give Whitesboro an 18-15 lead with 2:57 remaining in the half.


Cooper finished with 13 points for the Lady Bearcats, joining Kristen McCanlies’ game-high 16 points to lead Whitesboro. McCanlies added five rebounds while Kacie Jones also grabbed five rebounds.


From that point Bells went on an 11-2 run to close the quarter. Katie Branam, who totaled 14 points and 10 rebounds, had eight points during the stretch, including a putback in the final seconds.


"We got to feeding the post and getting on the boards and making things happen," Branam said.


The Lady Panthers took advantage of Whitesboro’s foul trouble. Bells was shooting free throws the final seven minutes of the first half and connected on eight-of-14 attempts to take the lead.


"That’s another thing we’ve really been pushing," Branam said. "Something we’ve worked on in practice."


The teams traded baskets in the first minute of the third quarter before Whitesboro went on a four-minute drought. Alexus Vanlandingham made a free throw that cut the deficit to 34-23 but Bells maintained a double-digit lead because Whitesboro went another two minutes without a basket.


Katie Shults made a pair of free throws with 19 seconds left in the quarter for a 39-28 lead after three. Bailey Wornhor chipped in six points, three rebounds and two assists and Emily Fagan added five points, four steals and four rebounds.


Macy Sanders, who had four points, five rebounds, five steals and four assists, and Shelby scored on consecutive possessions early in the fourth as Bells took its biggest lead at 15 and that proved to be enough to withstand a potential rally.


Whitesboro was on the verge of getting within single digits when Cooper scored midway through the quarter but the Lady Panthers responded and are now just one victory shy of their entire district win total from a season ago.