March 1, 2011
By Jon Cooper
If Georgia Tech is going to win the ACC Tournament they’re going to have to do it the hard way, by winning four games in four days.
Unlike last season, the Yellow Jackets did not earn a top-four finish and accompanying first-round bye.
But this year’s team may actually be better prepared to make the four-day run. Credit that to Coach MaChelle Joseph’s non-conference scheduling.
Remember that back-to-back-to-back-to-back stretch in November, when the Yellow Jackets faced No. 1 UConn, then, No. 12 Georgetown, No. 4 Tennessee and Missouri at the U.S. Virgin Islands Paradise Jam? Ideally, the team does and can build from the mental toughness gained during that brutal stretch.
“Coach scheduled these games so that we can win in January and February,” said senior co-captain Deja Foster back in December. “These are the type of teams we will play in the ACC and we don’t want to be exposed in ACC play. Come January and February we’re going to win those close games that we normally wouldn’t have in the past.”
When the Jackets take the court in their ACC Tournament opener at 11 a.m. on Thursday, the opposition won’t be nearly as tough as anyone they met at the Paradise Jam.
Virginia Tech was last in the conference, with a 1-13 record — their lone win coming at Clemson on Valentine’s Day — and was thrashed by Tech in the teams’ lone meeting, on Jan. 27 in Blacksburg. Freshman Ty Marshall, who was named third-team All-ACC, led the way that day, with 22 points, eight of them coming in a 12-2 run that closed the first half and broke open what was a one-point game.
The Jackets finished 9-5 in the ACC, falling just short of a school-record 10 conference wins when they lost their season finale to Miami, 70-59, with the loss ending a three-game winning streak. That win streak was preceded by a three-game losing streak, all against ranked teams.
While the Jackets can’t afford — and won’t be allowed by Joseph or seniors Foster and Alex Montgomery — to look past the Hokies, the true measure of this team will come in advancing past Friday and then the weekend (assuming, of course, they win Thursday).
Tech has shown they can make it to the second round — they did it last year and have done it four times in the last five years under Joseph.
But they have not been able to move on. The Conference semifinals are the goal. That’s been accomplished four times in program history, including the miraculous run to the ACC Final in 1992, coincidentally Joseph’s senior year at Purdue. It’s something that Tech’s seniors are staking their legacy on.
“It’s very important [to advance] because we don’t want to settle for less,” said Montgomery, who was named second-team All-ACC. “We don’t want to be like we were the past two years. One and done or two and done. We want to go further than we have before.”
“I don’t really think we’re leaving [the program] better than where we found it,” said Foster. “We got here as a 20-win team. The next step is making a run in the ACC Tournament, then making a run in the NCAA. Then I’ll be content with leaving the program better than I found it.
“As of right now, we’re where we’ve always been. I want to take it farther than that,” she added. “I want to win more than a game in the ACC Tournament. I want to make it to the championship of the ACC Tournament. I want to win the ACC championship. I want to make it past the second round of the NCAA Tournament. I want more. We’ve won a game in the NCAAs, but I want to win more than one. I want to compete for a championship. I want a ring when I leave here.”