En Guard

March 2, 2012

By Jon Cooper
Sting Daily

The Georgia Tech women’s basketball team’s goal for the 2012 postseason is to prove people wrong.

Specifically they were out to prove wrong those who for much of the ACC season — and pretty much the entire 2011-12 season — thought of the Yellow Jackets like an old Elvis Presley album … Sasha Goodlett and nine others.

The modest center never liked that label and, heading into the ACC Tournament, dared other teams to treat the Jackets that way.

“When people say I’m the only thing that can beat them, I take it as a slap in the face,” said Goodlett, a second-team All-ACC selection. “I know how hard my team has worked. When they come out and prove them wrong it makes me so proud.”

Goodlett, had good reason to be proud of her supporting cast Friday. The senior center who came in averaging 16.3 points per game in conference play, was held to two points, but co-second-team All-ACCer Tyaunna Marshall scored a game-high 21, including the Jackets’ final seven, as fourth-seeded Tech closed the game on a 7-2 run over the final 3:52, to overcome a four-point deficit and edge No. 5 North Carolina, 54-53.

The win, Tech’s first against North Carolina in six tries in the ACC Tournament, wasn’t decided until a 30-footer from straight on by UNC’s Brittany Rountree bounced off the front rim at the buzzer.

The Jackets earn a berth in the tournament semifinals for the third straight year and will play No. 9 seed NC State, who upset top-seed Duke, with the opening tip set for 11 a.m.

Yellow Jackets’ head coach MaChelle Joseph knows how important guard play is in the postseason, having been there with as Purdue as a player and an assistant coach and for the ninth straight season as Tech’s head coach. She also knew how important it would be for her team to not rely too heavily on Goodlett, especially going up against the physical Tar Heels’ frontcourt of Chay Shegog and Laura Broomfield.

“In the postseason it’s about your guards,” said Joseph. “Your centers get you to this point. Your guards have to win in postseason. I think that’s one of the things we’ve been working toward, our depth on the perimeter. I like what I see going into the ACC Tournament.”

Joseph didn’t like what she saw early on Friday.

After making a rousing pre-game speech calling on her team to punch the Tar Heels in the mouth, Joseph appeared ready to throw a teeth-rattler of her own, to her own team, as Tech trailed 10-2 coming out of the gate.

But the Jackets responded with a 10-2 run following Joseph’s passioned timeout speech, in which she later said she was trying to get the attention of her seniors, especially point guard Metra Walthour.

The message got through, and thanks to heroics from senior guard Mo Bennett, who matched her regular season total by hitting two three-pointers in a 51-second span in the half’s final two minutes, the Jackets took a 31-25 lead into the locker room.

Even after a second-half drought, which saw Tech go without a field goal for more than five minutes and fall behind by four late, there was no panic.

It was simply time to bring in Marshall, who was no slouch during the regular season, finishing 10th in scoring in ACC play with 13.5 ppg. It was part of Tech’s guard play which accounted for 47 of the team’s points and is the deepest and most versatile in school history.

“I feel like we have a better chance this year to win a championship than we did last year,” said Marshall. “We always talk about it. Ever since the season started, we’ve been taking about how great it would be to win an ACC Championship. Throughout the year we’ve been getting better. As we’ve been getting better, we’re getting more respect. We think we can actually do this thing, and we’re ready to do this thing.”

Tech’s backcourt did its thing Friday, outscoring UNC’s by 47-30, and its wave of fresh bodies was important in forcing 20 turnovers (12 of them from Carolina guards) and making 11 steals (seven from the back court).

“I don’t think there’s any doubt that our depth is going to play a factor,” said Joseph. “In the past we’ve gone into these tournaments and we’ve only gone six or seven deep. This is a year where we have 10 players that can compete at a high level. That makes a big difference.”

The Jackets live to fight another day thanks to the back court and Marshall’s 7-2 run at the end, when three times she attacked the paint, and scored on tough lay-ups. There was no stopping the unstoppable Marshall, who on one lay-up actually switched hands in mid-air.

Stop, it appears, isn’t in her vocabulary.

“The biggest improvement I’ve seen out of Ty is the way she’s never going to stop,” said Goodlett, who admitted she’s ridden Marshall hard in practice. “She might miss a shot, she might miss two, but then next thing you know, it’s like the game has started over. She’s off running and attacking and jumping. I think that shows a lot of maturity to come from a sophomore to learn how to play through hard games and play through the tough times.”

The Jackets have a tough game ahead and will need Marshall’s relentlessness, another good game from the guards and a more typical Goodlett-like game from Goodlett to move on to the Finals, a place they’ve never been.

“We have one goal, one main focus,” Marshall said. “We can’t lose sight of that focus.”

Thanks to Marshall, one main focus — on Goodlett — is something Georgia Tech’s opponents can no longer afford to have.

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