Dec. 2, 2012
By Jon Cooper
In theory, the Georgia Tech women’s basketball’s brutal non-conference schedule was a good idea.
In the past it’s worked well for head coach MaChelle Joseph in toughening up her teams for ACC and postseason play. It may well do that with this year’s team.
For right now, however, forcing this young team, composed of six freshmen, to prove itself over and over against some of the nation’s best is proving to be a bit too much for them. It’s become more than even a hardened competitor like Joseph bargained for. She admitted as much following Sunday’s 60-50 loss to No. 8 Georgia at McCamish Pavilion, which left the Yellow Jackets at 3-4.
“It’s not very often you look forward to going into your conference schedule because it’s not as tough as your non-conference schedule,” said Joseph, with a laugh. “We’ve played two of the best teams in the SEC, two of the best teams in the Big East and one of the best teams in the Big Ten and we haven’t even started conference play. We’re going to play the No. 1 team in the ACC (Duke) on Thursday night. So that’s a really tough situation for the first eight games of the season for a team full of freshmen.
“The four losses we have are all to top-25 teams. So we don’t have a bad loss at this point of the season, but it doesn’t get any easier for us. We turn around and go to Duke,” she added. “It’s one of those things where we bit off more than we could chew with a tough non-conference schedule, but we are getting exploited, they are showing us our weaknesses and we are finding out which players we can count on in difficult situations.”
Situations like the one in which the Yellow Jackets found themselves on Sunday afternoon.
Georgia’s defense limited Tech to 14 points and 20 percent shooting in the first 20 minutes — both season-lows — and held the Jackets 32 points with five minutes remaining until Tech put on a furious late rally.
Joseph credited the Bulldogs’ constant switching of their defenses in confusing the young Jackets. The strategy was so effective that two of Tech’s most reliable scorers, forward Jasmine Blain and two-guard Sydney Wallace combined for three points and shot a combined 0-for-17. The team’s leading scorer coming in, Dawnn Maye, shot 1-for-9 and didn’t score a point until 4:37 remained in the game. It’s understandable how the Yellow Jackets were held to 50 points, their lowest point total ever in a home game against UGA.
“It’s hard to overcome when you have two players that you count on to score go 0-for-17 together,” said Joseph. “So, it’s one of those nights where we couldn’t get anything to fall.”
The freshmen were about the only ones who managed to on Sunday. Forward Aaliyah Whiteside, making her first collegiate start, led the team in scoring, with 14 points, on 5-for-8 shooting, 3-of-5 from three, while playing with a ton of energy and hitting some big shots. All 14 of her points came in the second half, and one of her threes, with 1:51 left, cut what had been an 18-point deficit with 6:40 to play to six points. Freshman guard/forward Breana McDonald also was solid, scoring five points on 3-for-3 shooting.
Such inspired play from the kiddie corps, which totaled 25 of the team’s 50 points — guard Brittany Jackson had six — and the overall fight from her team was a definite positive to take from the loss. It makes the progression a little easier to swallow.
“One of the bright spots of this game was, obviously, that we never gave up and we continued to fight back,” said Joseph. “It’s one of those things where we’re learning a lot about ourselves as we go through it, but it’s a challenge right now. This is an uncomfortable position for me. I haven’t been in this situation in a long time. But I’ve just got to figure it out, try to help these young players through.
“It’s really exciting for the future, and I’m not talking about next year. I’m talking about the future in ACC play, in the short-term for the future,” she added. “Right now we’ve just got to keep getting better every game. I said all along, we won’t have our best team, we won’t be playing our best basketball until February. I think the more experience that these young players get, the more situations that we’re going to be able to overcome later, as long as we can stay strong through this non-conference schedule.”