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Feb. 10, 2013

By Matt Winkeljohn
Sting Daily

It doesn’t take a basketball expert to see improvement in the Georgia Tech women’s team, and neither does it take one to spot what the Yellow Jackets need to work on the most – ball security, and high-risk defense.

The Jackets were far more competitive in Sunday’s 60-58 loss to No. 16/18 North Carolina than they were against the Tar Heels at their place last month.

Ty Marshall has become the ultimate constant. With 19 points and 11 rebounds, she fashioned her fourth double-double in the last five games.

Her last drive called for her to rumble toward the basket where hopefully the Jackets could tie or perhaps even take the lead.

“We were giving her a screen at the top . . .  to create a shot for herself or someone else,” said head coach MaChelle Joseph. “They cut her off and she made the right play.”

That was a pass to Aaliyah Whiteside, who was alone on the right wing. Her 3-pointer with seven seconds left did not go, and after the ball was battled for, it went out of bounds off Tech.

UNC (22-3, 10-2) soon inbounded out to near half-court to end the game. Joseph was not unhappy with the final shot.

“Aaliyah was wide open, and . . . if she makes it, she’s a hero. If she misses it, her heart is broken,” the coach said. “Although she missed that shot, the fact that she had the guts to take it is only going to help her down the road. We’re only going to grow from these experiences.”

Indeed, the Jackets (10-14, 3-10) are more on the ball than they were a month ago, when UNC beat them, 79-58. Tech has a better understanding of what Joseph wants, and a more refined fighting spirit.

Execution remains an issue. Beyond Marshall, some less favorable constants remain.

Tech struggled from the free throw line (11-for-21), had problems hanging onto the ball (31 turnovers) and played defense more with hands than by moving feet to get into position, especially down the stretch.

North Carolina was dreadful at the line, making just 19-of-36, but the Jackets kept putting them at the line enough to make a difference.

Tech trailed 34-29 at halftime largely because the Jackets kept losing track of UNC sharpshooter Megan Buckland. She hit 4-of-5 3-pointers. Plus, the Jackets had 20 turnovers to UNC’s 16.

Buckland did not score in the second half, when the Tar Heels did not score a trey after making five in the first half.

Tech also cut down its turnovers, to 11, and gambled a little less on defense.

That had something to do with UNC’s slight reduction in turnovers (13 in the second half), and also enabled the Jackets to better contest North Carolina’s shots. The Tar Heels made just 6-of-21 (28.6 percent) after intermission.

Problem was, too often the Jackets were whistled for their defense.

Eighteen fouls were called against Tech in the second half. Guards Sydney Wallace, a sophomore, and Dawnn Maye, a junior, fouled out. Senior Danielle Hamilton-Carter and freshman Nariah Taylor finished with four each. 

The net-net was that even though the Tar Heels struggled from the line, they got there enough to win. They made 14-of-26 free throws in the second half, and they hit seven of their final eight – all in an 11-4 run to close the game.

“We fouled too much in critical situations,” Joseph said. “Those are signs of a young team: turning the ball over, missed free throws and fouling. Those are three things that we’ve got to learn over the course of the next three weeks and going into next year to be on the other end of these games.”

Marshall being Marshall, she scored for the final Tech lead when she picked off an errant pass and layed it in for a 58-57 edge with 47 seconds remaining.

Unfortunately, North Carolina went to the line four times in the next 32 seconds. Three makes sandwiched around a Wallace turnover – when the ball likely would have been in Maye’s hands had she not fouled out – spelled the final result.

“I’m proud of our effort,” Joseph said. “I think any time you can play a top 20 team to a two-point game that comes down to the last possession, I think that you’ve got to be proud of your kids, especially bouncing back less than 48 hours after a tough loss.”

The coach could have reason to be pleased in defeat. Although there are still teaching points to be addressed, the five freshmen in Tech’s rotation are trending up. Brittany Jackson was back in limited action after missing three games due to suspension.

“There’s definitely a lot of progress,” Marshall said. “I think we’re starting to learn how to block out distractions. You could look at the record now, and count us out.

“But if you watched this game today, you could see that we’re a dangerous team. Come ACC tournament time, all the records go out the window.”


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