Coming Full Circle

March 23, 2012

It’s been said that what goes around comes around.

Since Georgia Tech’s 76-64 win over Georgetown Tuesday night that sent the Yellow Jackets into the Sweet 16, senior center Sasha Goodlett has become quite aware of that axiom.

She’ll live it Saturday afternoon, when she and the Jackets take the floor of Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, Iowa, against undefeated (36-0) and top-ranked Baylor and its 6-8 center and National Player of the Year front-runner Brittney Griner. Tip-off is at approximately 2:30 p.m. ET on ESPN and ESPN3.

It’s not the first time the 6-5 Goodlett has gone up against one of the premier players in the nation with the spotlight glaring. It happened in her freshman year, when she played against Oklahoma’s Courtney Paris.

Goodlett can’t say she never saw either match-up coming.

She actually foresaw both of them.

“At the beginning of my freshman year I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, what if I play Courtney Paris? What would happen?'” Goodlett said. “This year we were sitting there at the Selection Show, I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m pretty sure I’m going to play Brittney Griner before this is over.’ Then the bracket happened. It’s ironic, but I feel like I called it.”

Coincidentally, the ’09 Oklahoma game and today’s Baylor showdown will be played, three years apart to the day, with both taking place in Iowa — although this time it’s in Des Moines, while the Oklahoma game was played in Iowa City.

While both games present an opportunity for Joseph’s program to go further than it’s ever gone, there is more at stake this time, as today’s winner earns a place in the Elite Eight and the right to play for a spot at the Final Four on Monday night at 7:00 p.m. against the winner of Saturday’s first game between No. 2 Tennessee and No. 11 Kansas (a noon tip-off).

Goodlett hasn’t thought much of these parallels. She’s only looking at the next station, having made it clear the Jackets are dissatisfied with their current one.

“When we came in, all our focus was on Sacred Heart,” she said. “I remember getting texts after, ‘Oh, you’re going to have to go against Brittney Griner.’ I was like, ‘We have two games before that. Let’s not get too caught up in ourselves right now.’ Like Coach says, ‘No game is more important than the other.’ The most important game right now is Baylor.”

Head Coach MaChelle Joseph expects to see a sense of urgency from Goodlett, whose quiet demeanor masks a roaring competitive fire.

“I think Sasha’s really excited about the opportunity,” said Joseph, who recalled ’09 very well. “She played pretty well against Oklahoma as a freshman. So to come out here and have this chance against Brittney Griner, she has nothing to lose and I think that will be her approach.”

Goodlett played fearlessly against Paris, a First-Team All-American. The 18-year-old freshman stayed even with Paris on the scoreboard (she was outscored 9-8) and on the glass (Paris had a 10-7 edge), even winning the battle on the offensive glass, 4-1. Paris was held to 4-for-10 shooting and without a double-double for only the seventh time in her collegiate career.

Her effort couldn’t save Tech, which lost, 69-50, but gained the respect of Paris.

“I’ll never forget, Courtney Paris walked up to her after the game and said, ‘You’re going to be a great player. You’ll be a pro,'” recalled Joseph. “I think that was a big stepping stone for her because at that point, she was not even sure what she was doing at Georgia Tech or what she was doing in the ACC. To look back now and know she’s going to be a pro and she knows she’s going to be a first-round draft pick and she’s going up against one of the best centers in the country. It has come full-circle.”

Sasha Goodlett, the senior, was State of Georgia College Player of the Year and a Second-Team All-ACC and First-Team All-ACC Tournament selection. She’ll spot three inches to Griner, who has blocked a Big 12 career-high 577 shots — she’s 86 away from tying the NCAA record — and swats 5.1 shots per game.

Joseph believes that Goodlett won’t be intimidated and won’t stop attacking.

“When she went up against [Duke center] Elizabeth Williams she had 25 points and 5 rebounds,” said Joseph. “Yes, Elizabeth Williams blocked her shot but she just grabbed it back and went right back at her. So I’m looking forward to the match-up. I think it’s a great opportunity for us, it’s a great opportunity for our program. We respect everyone but we fear no one.”

Joseph believes the entire team needs to adopt that philosophy.

“There’s no doubt that [Griner] alters the game on the block with her blocked shots,” she said. “Watching her block shots, 90 percent of her blocks are out of bounds, so you’re getting the ball back. What we have to do is get the ball back and go back at her. You have to have relentless effort when you go against someone like her. You can’t let it bother you that she’s going to get deflections. She’s going to get blocks. You just have to play through it.”

Defensively, Joseph certainly doesn’t expect to stop Griner, who is averaging 23.1 points. The goal will be limiting her opportunities.

“We play 94 feet. We don’t just play the 10 feet in the paint,” she said. “We’re going to try to stretch the game out defensively and put pressure on in the back court. Hopefully the ball won’t get to her in the frontcourt very often. That’s our plan, get the wrong people shooting. That’s always been our defensive scheme, our defensive plan and that’s not going to change.”

Something Goodlett would like to change is people’s minds about Georgia Tech.

The Jackets may be heavy underdogs Saturday but they believe they can do what many consider impossible — beat the Lady Bears, who have won their games by an average margin of 27.4 and played only five games decided by single-digits.

“Everything’s impossible until someone does it,” Goodlett said. “We can’t get too caught up in, ‘It’s Baylor.’ We have to get tuned into the game plan that Coach gives us, go out there and execute to the best of our abilities.”

“We’re going to go in with the mindset that anything can happen,” added Joseph. “It’s the NCAA Tournament. Why play it if anything can’t happen?”

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