Nov. 21, 2010
By Jon Cooper
Georgia Tech Head Women’s Basketball Coach MaChelle Joseph isn’t afraid to schedule tough non-conference opponents for her team.
She looks refers to those games as “opportunities.”
Sunday presented the Yellow Jackets with the opportunity to make history against No. 1 Connecticut, which entered the game with an 80-game winning streak.
The poetic signs worked in Tech’s favor. The streak, which started two Novembers ago, could come full-circle. There even was a blue moon scheduled to be in the sky.
In sports, however, poetry can be trumped by cold, hard prose, especially when the author is Maya Moore and the Huskies.
In front of a Georgia Tech women’s single-game record crowd of 7,325 (including new Atlanta Braves Manager Fredi Gonzalez), Moore delighted her personal cheering section of more than 100, as well as the rest of a large Huskies’ contingent, by scoring a game-high 30 points in a game-high 39 minutes, and UConn rocked the Jackets, 71-51.
“I thought that Maya Moore showed why she is the best player in college basketball,” said Joseph. “She puts her team on her back and carries them, she makes big plays at the right time, she’s all over the floor, she played 39 minutes today and she played hard for 39 minutes and continued to make plays. I have a tremendous amount of respect for her and what she brings to the game.”
UConn Head Coach Geno Auriemma called the reaction to his star, which included the loudest applause in pregame introductions and a standing ovation when she left with 53 seconds remaining, “unique.” In between was same old, same old.
“Maya was Maya,” said Auriemma. “She didn’t shoot the ball particularly well, but neither did the rest of us (UConn short .457, Tech, .345). She made some huge plays and, in the end, she did what Maya always does. Maya figures out a way to put points on the board for us. I’m happy for her. I’m happy we won and I’m happy she put on a very good performance for her friends and family.”
Joseph was disappointed with several aspects of her team’s performance, especially its 24 turnovers — the silver lining in that black cloud being they committed only eight in the second half — and 10 missed free throws. Five of the turnovers fueled a decisive 14-0 first-half run which turned an 11-11 game into the beginning of a UConn cruise.
Also a sore spot was the lack of an inside game, as Tech was outscored 50-20 in the paint. Many of the points came on uncontested lay-ups, and the Jackets didn’t block a shot. A positive was that Tech outrebounded the Huskies, 40-38, something Joseph felt the team could build on and a fact that Auriemma commented he couldn’t remember happening over the course of the streak.
“To hold them to 3-for-23 from the three-point line, I thought our match-up zone defense was pretty effective,” she said. “We’ve got to develop an inside game.”
The offense also struggled, as Tech managed only one three-point field goal in 10 tries — UConn wasn’t much better, shooting 3-for-23 from behind the arc — and only five Yellow Jackets even managed to score, one of them, was defensive specialist Chelsea Regins, who played an inspired 35 minutes.
Freshman Tyaunna Marshall was dynamic, leading the Yellow Jackets with 23 points, on 10-for-20 shooting. Alex Montgomery was next with 13, but was hindered by foul trouble, which limited her to 25 minutes and only 13 shots.
Joseph was pleased with Marshall, who is showing signs of being the real deal, only five games into her collegiate career (a subject Sting Daily will delve into in the coming days).
“Obviously I’m very impressed with Ty Marshall,” said Joseph. “For a freshman to step up and make the plays that she made against a very good UConn team bodes well for the future. She put us on her back at times and carried us. That’s what a big time player does in big time games. For a freshman she showed a lot of guts out there today.”
Joseph was not as happy with Montgomery’s 13 shots.
“Like I told Alex, ‘You’ve got to take 20 shots for us,'” she said. “Just like Brigitte Ardossi carried us last year, Alex Montgomery has to take 20 shots a game. She’s got to put us on her back. She has to make plays. Maya Moore had 17 more points on 13 more shots. She’s got to take shots for us and that’s the bottom line.
“Alex is a tremendous player. She’s one of the top five players in the ACC,” Joseph continued. “It’s time for her to step up and take shots and show everybody, including herself, that she is one of the top five players in the ACC. It’s time for her to step up and over this next couple of games she’s going to have to do that for us to have a chance to win.”
Those next couple of games begin Thanksgiving night in the U.S. Virgin Islands Paradise Jam, when Georgia Tech battles Georgetown, currently ranked 13th, then, No. 4 Tennessee on Friday and, finally, Missouri, on Saturday.
Joseph believes the Jackets will have more to build on from the 20-point loss to Connecticut than they would have gotten from a lopsided win.
“One of the things we’ve got to get out of this experience this week is we’ve got to develop some toughness,” she said, a deficiency that has made the absence of senior Deja Foster even more glaring. “I think playing the best teams in the country is do or die. You have to bow up and you’ve got to be tough or you’re going to get your butt handed to you. That’s the bottom line.
“Beating somebody by 30 points right now is not going to make us better,” she added. “We have to develop our inside game. We have to understand what we have to do to create offense, and we’re learning that Alex has to take 20 shots. This is teaching us what we have to do to beat and compete with the best teams in the country. It’s not what happens to us; it’s how we respond to it.”
Nov. 21, 2010, may turn out to be a building block for the Yellow Jackets, and that could happen as soon as next week.
“This game is only going to help us next week in the Virgin Islands,” she said. “There’s nobody who is going to be better than UConn. They might be as good, but they’re not going to be better. There’s not going to be a better player than Maya Moore in the Virgin Islands. So we’ve already faced the very best. They’ve exploited our weaknesses and now we have to address them. That’s how you get better.
“Honestly, this game is going to help us beat somebody we’re not supposed to.”