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Behind-The-Arc Angels

Dec. 5, 2013

By Jon Cooper
Sting Daily

Next Game: Saturday, vs. Alabama A&M, 4:30 p.m. at McCamish Pavilion

For the most part, three-point shooting has really been little more than quixotic as an offensive option for Georgia Tech Women’s Basketball.

There have been decent three-point shooting team — the 2010-11 team with Alex Montgomery and Metra Walthour, ’07-08 with Chioma Nnamaka and Montgomery, and ’06-07 with Nnamaka, Stephanie Hicks and Jacqua Williams to name a couple — but those have been exceptions to the rule.

The 2013-14 team may change the way Coach MaChelle Joseph looks at 3-point shooting.

It will never supercede full-court defensive pressure in Coach Joseph’s game plan, but it has become a point of emphasis and something opposing teams must respect.

The reason for this turnabout is a trio of three-point shooters in freshman sensation Kaela Davis, sharpshooting junior Sydney Wallace and rising sophomore Aaliyah Whiteside, who have given Tech a three-headed monster from behind the arc that is giving opposing teams fits.

“I think it’s been huge,” said Davis, one of the top-rated recruits in the country last year coming out of Buford High School in Suwanee. “It makes the defense kind of have to shift and adjust during the course of the game. It’s huge for us just to be able to knock down shots. It spreads everything out. I think it makes it easier on everybody.”

“It’s really big,” agreed junior guard Sydney Wallace. “It kind of spreads out the zone, it opens up the paint. A lot of teams will be focused on our three-point shooting so that will give opportunities to get the ball inside and when you get the ball inside opens up the three-point shooting. So it really is effective. With the wings that we have and the bigs that we have, with Ty [Marshall], it’s a really positive thing.”

Prior to the off-night against Illinois, a 3-for-20, the Jackets were making 6.8 3-pointers per game and canned a record 13 against Western Carolina on Nov. 10. They ranked eighth in the ACC at 34.5 percent, and had three players make at least six field goals.

Davis is the biggest reason for the sudden surge in three-point shooting. The 6-2 guard, who originally committed to Tennessee, before de-committing and coming to Tech, leads the team with 20 3’s and a .370 percentage. She can do it in the paint or on the perimeter and has made an instant impact.

First-year assistant coach Michael Wholey, who works with the perimeter shooters, is impressed with Davis, but not surprised by her success.

“That’s Kaela’s game,” said Wholey. “She was the No. 2 prospect in the country coming out of high school and I think anybody that watched her in high school and AAU, she’s always been a very good 3-point shooter. Maybe what’s being done is getting her shots in positions that she feels comfortable. I think that’s Coach Jo drawing up plays for her and her teammates are getting her the ball and screening for her. But Kaela was known as a shooter coming in. That’s why she played with USA Basketball and now she’s doing an excellent job as she transitions into the college game.”

“Kaela is a really big presence,” said Wallace. “She’s a great offensive threat both inside and outside. It’s hard for teams to prepare for her because they don’t know what she’s going to do. Is she going to put the ball on the floor? Drive? Pull up? It creates more open looks for people. So I feel like she’s been a great addition.”

The arrival of Davis has made Wallace an even bigger threat. Wallace opened eyes as a freshman, setting school NCAA-Tournament-records with 28 points and six 3-pointers against Sacred Heart, then broke the latter record in last year’s by canning eight against Baylor.

Wholey likes Wallace’s explosiveness and believes she will get more, and better shots, having moved to the point this season.

“Sydney is one of the most dangerous three-point shooters I’ve ever had the privilege of coaching,” he said. “Sydney’s always been known as a shooter now she’s kind of maybe getting some other shots in a different role because she’s at the point instead of the two. I think it’s the same thing we were talking about with Kaela, getting Sydney open and getting her in places that she feels comfortable within the context of our offense.”

Davis and Wallace have, in turn, opened up the floor for Whiteside, who last season hit .319 (29-for-91) from three, third on the team.

Wholey recruited Whiteside when he was an assistant at Memphis and she was a senior at Memphis Central High School. He believes that being something of a forgotten option can be advantageous.

“If people are going to help and rotate off of her then she’s going to make them pay and bury the shot,” he said. “If people are really going to pressure her and try to take away stuff she’s a very unselfish player who will make the extra pass or penetrate. She can create a shot for her teammates.”

The improved perimeter game and the attention that must be paid to it, has opened the floor for Ty Marshall and bigs, Roddreka Rogers and Nariah Taylor.

“Us hitting shots makes it easier on everybody,” said Davis. “If we hit shots it opens things up for Aaliyah, Ty, and Dawnn [Maye]. It just works for everyone.”

“With the wings that we have and the bigs that we have, with Ty, it’s a really positive thing,” said Wallace. “Ty’s done a great job of attacking and helping us. In my opinion I think that this is one of the most balanced teams that we’ve had since I’ve been here.”

It’s also a group that loves to compete. Davis and Wallace, especially, have been as fun to watch in practice as in games. Wholey recalled one particular drill that would have been worth paying to see.

“We have a drill we call `Volume Shooting,'” he said. “They shoot 60 threes. Kaela was at one end, Sydney was at the other. Kaela went 50 for 60 and Sydney went 49 for 60.”

There is a lot to live up to and to return to. There is the 20-win seasons — Tech is already a third of the way there after dumping Illinois — and a return to the NCAAs following last year’s hiccup. Any way to make things fun while also getting better and getting each other is a good way.

“It’s really competitive,” said Davis, with a laugh. “Obviously it’s a fun competition but they keep a board and stuff in the locker room so they keep track of who’s doing what. So it’s a fun competition for everybody.”

“Competition is always good because it helps push you, motivate you and it gets you better in the long run,” said Wallace.

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