Fourth and Goals

March 12, 2012

By Jon Cooper
Sting Daily

They made Georgia Tech Women’s Basketball head coach MaChelle Joseph wait a good 40-plus minutes to find out where she and her team were going in their sixth straight NCAA Tournament appearance.

It was well worth the wait.

The Yellow Jackets, who matched their season-best with 24 wins (set last season), led by a senior class that has the most wins of any (93), earned a program-best No. 4 seed in the Des Moines Region and will play their first two games in Chapel Hill, N.C.

They start Sunday afternoon against Sacred Heart (25-7, 14-3), the regular-season and tournament champion of the Northeast Conference. Sunday will be the first meeting between Tech and the Fairfield, Conn., school.

“It’s probably the best seed we’ve ever gotten in the history of our program,” said Joseph, whose previous six teams ranked seventh, 10th, ninth, sixth and fifth. “Not only a four seed but having the opportunity to play against some very good competition on a neutral floor. Obviously we’re very familiar with North Carolina and Carmichael Arena. I’m excited about the opportunity to play there.”

The feeling of excitement was obvious on the faces of every member of the team, which wore yellow t-shirts commemorating the record sixth straight selection.

“I’m just really happy,” said senior center Sasha Goodlett. “This is the highest seed in history to come in as a four seed. I’m more excited that we’ll be relatively close to home in Chapel Hill. I’m excited and I’m eager to get started.”

Considering where the Jackets have played in the past — they’ve played in Minneapolis, Des Moines, Iowa City, Norman, Oklahoma, and last year in Columbus, Ohio — not playing on someone else’s floor — in 2008 they played Iowa State in Des Moines, in 2009 they played Iowa in Iowa City, and in 2011 got a double-dose, playing Bowling Green and Ohio State in Columbus — and not having to make a plane flight is refreshing.

Having a fan base also is exciting.

“We expect a lot of people to be up there,” said sophomore guard Ty Marshall. “It’s not far. I know my parents will be able to come down and other people’s parents will be able to travel as well. I think we’ll have a great fan base and great support in Chapel Hill.”

That Jackets, who have thrived this season playing nothing but neutral-court games, not only carry momentum from their run in the ACC Tournament, but also a two-game winning streak in Carmichael Arena, having beaten UNC there the last two years. If you really want to push it, they beat Carolina there this season on a Sunday.

After navigating their way to the championship game of the ACC Tournament, reaching it for the second time in school history and nearly pulling it out, Tech is eager to venture into the unknown again in the NCAA Tournament. This time the goal is getting into the Sweet 16. This team has the best shot of any in the Joseph era.

“I think we have more offensive balance,” said Joseph. “We have a tremendous inside game with Sasha, a great perimeter game with our veteran guards and our shooters in freshman Sydney Wallace and Frida Fogdemark. So I really feel like going into the tournament we’re more balanced on the offensive end.”

The team is more balanced and is playing its best basketball.

“I think our team progressed a lot,” said Marshall, who with Goodlett was named All-ACC Second-Team and to the All-Tournament First Team. “We started off a little shaky but as time went on, everybody stepped up into their role and we’ve started playing together more as a team. We did some special things together.

“In the tournament I came in and I played like I always play,” she added. “I played aggressively and fearlessly. I write on my shoes, ‘Don’t think. Just play.’ That’s what I did, not thinking, just playing the game that I know how to play.”

Should Tech advance to the second round for the third time in four years, they will take on either fifth-seeded Georgetown of the Big East, who the Jackets met last year in St. Thomas, on Tuesday with a Sweet 16 bid on the line, or 12th-seeded Fresno State of the Western Athletic Conference.

The Jackets have never made it to the Sweet 16, going 0-3 all-time in second-round games, with two of those coming in the Joseph era, falling three years ago to top-seeded Oklahoma, 69-50, in Iowa City, then, last year, losing to No. 4 Ohio State, 67-60, in Columbus.

“We played Georgetown, so we’ve had an opportunity to play against their zone press and their traps. We’ve had a chance to watch Georgetown, so we’re very familiar with what they’re going to do,” said Joseph, who coincidentally also caught Sacred Heart on TV. “But first things first and that’s Sacred Heart. That’s a team that’s won a championship and you can never overlook a team that wins a championship.”

Goodlett wants to make sure that no one overlooks the Yellow Jackets and their quest to continue making history.

“We’re not satisfied,” she said. “Yeah, we’re happy that we made it to the ACC Championship Game but we’re more hungry than ever to just get our name out there and get people knowing about who we are, how we play and what we’re about.

“This is our last time for this class, the last time for this special team to be together,” she added. “We really want to do it justice. We’ve been making history so far so why sell ourselves short.”

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