#STINGDAILY: Young Jackets Make for a Bright Future

Jan. 10, 2013

by Matt Winkeljohn, Sting Daily –

With part of Georgia Tech’s future prominently on display Thursday night in McCamish Pavilion alongside moderate doses of the present, the Yellow Jackets offered glimpses of what may be to come.

Freshman Brittany Jackson scored 20 points off the bench, tying her (young) career high with five 3-pointers on the way, and the Jackets forced 25 turnovers.

Overall, however, the signs of light were too sporadic, and Virginia beat Tech 62-51  to drop the Jackets to 8-7 overall and 1-3 in the ACC.

That’s dark territory for a program that has made six straight NCAA tournament appearances while winning 21, 22, 22, 23, 24 and 26 games in consecutive seasons.

Having lost five seniors from a Sweet 16 team and incorporating six freshmen, head coach MaChelle Joseph surely knew there would be speed bumps. There have been more than anticipated, and a stiff early non-conference schedule highlighted them.

You can see the athleticism on this team, but cohesion is fleeting at both ends of the court. Yet if you know anything about Joseph, you know this team is not going to abandon hope.

“We’re going to get there,” said associate head coach Sytia Messer. “It’s part of being young, but I promise you late in this month and in February it’s going to click for us.”

Junior Ty Marshall and another freshman, Aaliyah Whiteside, scored 12 points each for Tech, but in the Jackets it is not presently difficult to spot indecision.

When Tech struggled to get the ball inside in the first half, most possessions came down to contested or off-balance shots late in the clock, and too many were 3-pointers. Tech made just 2-of-16 treys in the first half, and just 5-of-18 from inside the arc to trail 31-20 at halftime even after closing the half with a 7-0 run.

Virginia could not even get the ball across half court in that stretch, and point guard Dawnn Maye had five steals in the game while Jackson added three.

Yet youth is unpredictable, and it can be contagious.

The Jackets pulled to within 39-32 when forward Danielle Hamilton-Carter took an offensive rebound and put it back with 13:41 left in the game.

That inside presence was too rare. Virginia scored the next nine points to lead by 16, and the Cavs were not threatened again as the Jackets struggled to build a consistent attack.

Tech’s last game was its best offensive showing. The Jackets shot 53.7 percent in an 81-59 win at Clemson. Thursday, they shot 28.1 percent (18-for-64), including that super rough 7-for-34 first half (20.6 percent) first half.

Tech took 15 more shots in the game than Virginia (10-5, 2-2) courtesy of those takeaways, but the Jackets did not work the ball effectively inside, particularly in the first half.
 
Virginia bigs Telia McCall and Simone Egwu combined for 25 rebounds and they were taking up every bit of space those numbers suggest. Rather than attack the Cavs’ size, the Jackets often settled for poor shots late in the clock. They were usually jumpers.

“We didn’t do a great job in our post,” Messer said. “We didn’t do a good job in defending, and also in rebounding and getting tougher. We wanted to emphasize getting post touches.”
 
Jackson has generally surpassed reasonable expectation. She scored 21 against Marquette earlier in the season.

“Our last week or so in practice, she’s been our best player,” Messer said. “She’s high energy, and tonight it played out for us. We’re excited about that. We’ve got to keep her going. Right now, she’s carrying us from the 3-point line.”

The Jackets are out of balance, however. Jackson took 13 of Tech’s 28 3-point shots, and two starters and key sub Sydney Wallace failed to score Thursday.

Wallace has struggled to find her shot much of the season and Tech is hardly constructed to have both her and Maye go 0-for-8 night in the same game, especially when Whiteside is 3-for-12 and the three of them combine to go 2-for-14 on treys.

Wallace is searching for her shot. She appeared to find it at Clemson, where she scored 19 points on 6-for-12 shooting, but it’s been a tough season overall.

Her shot is not all that has been missing. The Jackets and Joseph are searching far and wide for combinations, and  Messer mentioned toughness a couple times.

Tech is looking for it chiefly in the paint not only to score more inside, but to balance the offense and force opposing defenses to tilt so that Tech’s perimeter players have more room to operate.

“We’re not going to use the excuse that we lost five seniors,” Messer said. “We’ve got to get better with the players that we have.”

Next up: Sunday’s game at North Carolina.

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