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#STINGDAILY: Tough Start

Jan. 6, 2014

By Jon Cooper
Sting Daily

– Freshman year is full of firsts, some more pleasant than others.

On Sunday afternoon at McCamish Pavilion, Georgia Tech women’s basketball star freshman Kaela Davis learned one of the more valuable, albeit unpleasant, lessons she’ll learn this year in Tech’s 64-47 loss to No. 3 Duke in the ACC opener.

Davis already knew about the intensity needed to play with top-25 teams. She didn’t know about the intensity of a top-25 team within the conference.

Now she does. It was a hard lesson, resulting in 2-for-14 day shooting (1-for-9 from 3) taught by one of the premiere teachers in the nation.

“They do a tremendous job in their match-up zones, the 3-2 and the 2-3, just forcing you to take outside perimeter shots,” said Tech head coach MaChelle Joseph afterward. “I thought that Duke did a great job of making us take tough shots, defended with a hand in our face. I thought that was the difference in the game. We didn’t get a lot of open looks, but we did miss a lot of lay-ups and second-chance opportunities.”

The Jackets team had a frustrating day, shooting 26.0 percent, making only one of their 17 attempts from three-point range. Top scorers Tyaunna Marshall and Davis combined to go 9-for-39.

The latter was especially surprising to Joseph.

“I definitely wouldn’t have believed that,” she said. “We’ve come to rely on Kaela, and sometimes we forget she’s just a freshman, because she does such a tremendous job for us. She’s been so consistent.”

It was only Davis’ second sub-10-point game and the third in which she scored fewer than three field goals. It was a rare game she hadn’t responded to having a target on her back. Duke counted on the added pressure of her first ACC game.

“Coming in, we knew that she could really shoot the ball but we also knew that she’s a freshman and this is going to be her first conference game,” said Duke junior center Elizabeth Williams, whose 18 points matched Marshall for game-high. “So we came in communicating, calling her name, saying, `Number 3’s here,’ trying to get in her head. When we were on her we tried to put a lot of ball pressure on her. It was a total team effort on her.”

Joseph was proud of the way her freshman stuck it out for 36 minutes, one minute off her season high, as well as the way her team battled for 40. The Jackets out-rebounded Duke, 51-47, only the third team this season to win the battle on the boards, and won the offensive boards, 23-13.

“That’s a great thing for us,” said Joseph. “To get 51 rebounds against Duke, that’s a lot of hustle points. We played hard but we missed a lot of shots so there were a lot of rebounds to get. One of the things we’ve got to do is we’ve got to come back and be able to knock down those shots the next time that we get them. We know Kaela and [Sydney Wallace] and [Aaliyah Whiteside] and [Katarina Vuckovic] are capable. They’ve just got to make those plays. We’re talking about freshmen and sophomores. So we’ve just got to get them to step up and knock down their shots.”

Not even Marshall, who valiantly grabbed 16 rebounds, 10 on the offensive boards, could get shots to fall, going 7-for-25. But she personified the team’s never-ending fight. She converted a three-point play off a neat no-look pass from Vuckovic to cap a 9-0 run that cut the lead to six with 8:41 to play. The Jackets got no closer, however.

The senior was positive Davis will bounce back.

“I’ve been through the struggles. Of course I’ll talk to her,” she said. “She’s somebody I definitely try to pull through, if she gets down or try to keep going. We’re not worried about her. She’s not worried about it. We’ve just got to keep her rolling.”

“She’s very mentally tough,” agreed Joseph. “She doesn’t let a lot rattle her. Looking at the stats, 2-for-14, I wouldn’t have guessed that by the way she handles herself on the floor. You don’t see her hang her head. She doesn’t pass up an open shot. She just keeps playing and keeps trying to attack and make plays. That’s what you want a scorer to do and what you want a great player to do. Whether she has a great game or an average game, she comes back the next day and goes to work and does her job. There’s very little fluctuation from her, which is very impressive for a freshman.”

Joseph feels that Davis will roll with the punches, and continue to learn. It won’t be surprising if she offers a clinic of her own on handling adversity Wednesday night at Littlejohn Coliseum, when Tech takes on Clemson.

“As we go through this ACC season for the first time with her we just have to understand that she is a freshman and she is going to have those nights,” she said. “She’ll bounce back. There’s no doubt in my mind. We just have to come back tomorrow and get better and go after Clemson. That’s what we do.”

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