Heating Up On The Hardwood

Dec. 7, 2010

By Matt Winkeljohn
Sting Daily

If you’ve never met Alex Montgomery, it would take you just a few moments upon first meeting her to agree that she’s a nice gal. That came to peeve her coach.

In this story you have the roots of Georgia Tech’s most impressive week of women’s basketball in some time. It comes with burn marks.

MaChelle Joseph can spray serious verbal fire, and the Tech coach recently left soot on her star senior guard because while Montgomery is very talented, she’d also fare well in a congeniality contest. The two don’t mix in Joseph’s world, at least the part of it spent on the hardwood.

Joseph was looking for a gale force to lead her team. Montgomery was deferring too much, however, and appeared content being just one of the gang.

By the end of Tech’s loss to No. 1 UConn on Nov. 21, Joseph had grown tired of seeing Ms. Nice Gal. So, the coach let Montgomery – and others – know that she wanted more out of the senior guard – more shots, more drives, more leadership . . . perhaps you get the picture.

“That’s what my teammates tell me, `You’re too nice on the court,’ Montgomery said. “[Joseph] tells me, “You’re too nice; you’ve got to be a beast on the court sometimes.”

The Jackets (7-4) are getting more of what Joseph asked for now.

On Sunday, they finished winning three games in five days, capping the run with a 16-point win over No. 21 Georgia, and spurring the ACC to name Montgomery conference player of the week, and freshman guard Tyaunna Marshall ACC Rookie of the week.

After a three-game losing streak to UConn, nationally-ranked Georgetown and Tennessee, Tech has won four straight games and looked more like the team Joseph envisioned before the season.

And Montgomery is blowing up.

She averaged 20.7 points and 8.3 rebounds in the three games last week, plus 3.7 assists and nearly two steals per game. She made 58 percent of her shots, and shot nearly that well from beyond the arc.

In beating Northwestern, she hit a 3-point shot to take the lead with 12 seconds left, grabbed the defensive rebound at the other end, and made two free throws to put the game away. In that game, she had a career-high 28 points and 11 rebounds. She followed with another double-double (16 and 10) in a win over Middle Tennessee State, an NCAA tourney team last year.

If there was a plus to Montgomery’s deference, and there may well have been, it was probably that the senior guard’s willingness to take a secondary role – even if it was not assigned by Joseph – early in the season allowed Marshall to blossom sooner than she otherwise might have.

She led the Jackets past Georgia with 20. Both players have made 57 of 124 shots (46 percent). Marshall will likely remain the driver (when scoring) as Montgomery has made and taken team highs in 3-point shots (23 of 57) while Marshall has put up just four from beyond the arc (making one).

Montgomery’s averaging team highs of 14.8 points and 8.6 rebounds. Marshall’s second in scoring (12.2) Senior guard Deja Foster returned five games ago from knee surgery, and sophomore forward Danielle Hamilton-Carter’s college debut after an odd NCAA suspension hasn’t hurt. Hamilton-Carter played just two minutes against Georgia, though, and while she will eventually play more, there is no denying that

Foster’s steady hand running the offense has a multiplying effect.

“Big difference. [Foster’s] very active; she rebounds, gets put backs, can dribble coast-to-coast,” Montgomery said. “Dani’s a great post player, very physical, shoots the 15-foot jumper.”

Mostly, the Jacket jumpstart was about better defense, and Tech forging itself into stronger metal by passing through heat. Their schedule has been ranked the nation’s third toughest to date by some metrics, and a verbal kick in the shins — Montgomery’s more than all others — helped.

About soot; it comes from incomplete combustion, generally when there is a shortage of oxygen.

So while Joseph can lay a verbal on ya, she didn’t fry all the parts. She just warmed them up.

“She wants me to be a better leader, score instead of getting assists,” Montgomery said. “She said I need to want to score. That’s my role, the role she gave me at the beginning of the season. I don’t know what it was, but I wasn’t playing my role. After the UConn game, I just decided to step up and take a little look at myself.”

The women have a layoff of roughly two weeks after a hard-core start. I have a hunch that by January, the Jackets won’t look much like they did in November. Thoughts to stingdaily@gmail.com.

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