Against the district-unbeaten Celina, which had won nine straight games heading into Friday, Feb. 1’s matchup, Gainesville knew they had to have a fast start and play an unblemished game.

The Leopards didn’t earn the quick start they had hoped for and by the time they gained their footing, it was too late as Celina rolled to a 64-34 victory.

Gainesville employed a decisive strategy to begin the game. They wanted to slow the game down, so they passed it around the top of the defense before attempting their shots.

However, the Bobcats opened with a 15-4 advantage after the first quarter.

Gainesville head coach Jeff Wolf equated the strategy to a running game in football that controls the time of possession and keeps the ball away from the opposing offense.

“They’re the best team in the district,” Wolf said. “So we began the game trying to spread it out a little bit. I was hoping they would come out on us. It’s kind of like in football. We were just trying to run the ball to lower the possessions and give everybody a chance.”

The Bobcats continued their offensive advantage as they led 31-9 at halftime.

“I just thought that we were offensively a step slow on making decisions,” Wolf said. “When we wanted to make a shot or take a shot, it was not a good shot or we took an extra dribble.”

Gainesville was led offensively by Isaiah Gipson’s 10 points while Tre Lawson was limited to just seven points.

Wolf lauded the junior Gipson for his effort and tenacity.

“I told him after the game that if he plays like that, if he treats life like that and he’s going to go at it and leave it on the floor like that, then he’s going to have a very successful life because he left it out there tonight,” Wolf said. “He was especially good in the second half, driving to the basket, going to the boards and his energy. He was playing with a lot of heart. I’ve seen him do that before a lot of times this season, but he did exactly what I’m looking for in the program.”

The Leopards moved to 0-7 in district play with games against Sanger, Melissa and Anna left.

Tuesday, Feb. 5’s matchup against Sanger is still an important one though.

“If we can win on Tuesday night against Sanger, we still have the chance to go playoffs and we’re still playing for something,” Wolf said. “I hope that will inspire them and we can go over to Sanger and get the first one in district because coming into Friday, Sanger had only beat us and Anna had only beaten us and Sanger, so with that being said, we still have to play both of them. We have three games left so there’s still a realistic possibility.”

Sanger defeated Gainesville 55-47 on Jan. 18, but Wolf said he thought the Leopards played well in that game.

“They ran a box or diamond-and-1 on Tre and they are a very well coached team,” Wolf said. “The kids know each other and so because we’re pretty close, I guess we call it a rivalry game. They have a good point guard and some shooters. We’re gonna have to take care of the ball and we’ve got to make shots, play defense and get the ball inside.”

Patrick Hayslip can be reached at sports@gainesvilleregister.com or on Twitter at @PatrickHayslip