By Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word
The big game is on tap, but first there was work to be done Wednesday night for the Georgia Tech women’s basketball team and they started off looking like they were thinking about Sunday’s task against No. 14 Georgia and Western Carolina not so much.
Without probably knowing what a Catamount is, the Yellow Jackets fell behind WCU 9-2 quickly. They were a bit of a mess, prompting head coach MaChelle Joseph to begin her post-game by saying, “We’ve got to figure out how to get off to better starts.”
Actually, the Jackets (2-1) are off to a decent start. They course-corrected nicely in McCamish Pavilion, where the process of integrating six true freshmen and a couple more players who might as well be, turned into an 84-49 rout of the Catamounts.
The rare, old standby, led the way. Junior guard/forward Francesca Pan paced the Jackets with 19 points while pitching in six rebounds and six steals.
She had green help.
Freshman Elizabeth Dixon, half the Jackets’ double-post lineup with sophomore Lorela Cubaj, notched her first double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds and the Jackets outrebounded the Catamounts 48-31. Redshirt-freshman Daijah Jefferson – who played all of 11 minutes in Tech’s first two games – scored 14.
Add the fact that freshman Elizabeth Balogun added eight points and six rebounds, and Joseph was left with all kinds of material to analyze and coach up moving forward.
Dixon, after all, had seven turnovers.
“Her and Cubaj have been putting the ball on the floor too much, and that’s what’s causing the turnovers . . . Dixon took some questionable shots, but that’s what I want her to do. I want her to be an offensive threat,” Joseph said. “Daijah Jefferson we know can score. We’ve been challenging her to rebound and defend. I thought tonight she got better.”
Well, yes, as Jefferson had a couple rebounds and four of Tech’s 18 steals while playing off the bench. She was injured last season.
Watch these Jackets and you walk away thinking, Wow, that’s a lot of moving parts.
Joseph won’t argue that. Like a chef, she’s trying to blend all the ingredients into a stew.
That’ll be tricky because the Jackets have speed, quickness and athleticism, and yet 40 percent of the starting lineup – Dixon and Cubaj – are traditional bigs in that they populate the paint and they’re not long-distance shooters.
Cubaj and Dixon move well and have ball skills. Many of Dixon’s seven turnovers Wednesday night came when she tried to play like the Jackets, fast.
Hey, she’s making an adjustment, too. Liz needs to slow down once in a while.
“In high school, I was the go-to player, so I had to make all the plays. So I’m kind of used to making a quick play or a fast move, but now I’m starting to realize it’s different here,” Dixon said. “I don’t have to go 100 mph. I can do things just a little slower and get a better result.”
In the end, the Jackets overwhelmed the Catamounts from afar.
Tech made 11-of-28 shots (39.3 percent) from beyond the 3-point arc against 18-of-46 (39.1 percent) from inside.
That might be odd, yet Joseph has a plausible theory.
They took just one less 3-point shot against WCU than in their first two games combined in an overtime loss at Houston and a win against Appalachian State. Pan made 4-of-9 Wednesday, and Jefferson 3-of-7 to lead the Jackets.
“I feel like our 3-point shooters have a lot of confidence. We have some players that really believe that they’re great 3-point shooters,” the coach said. “People have really been packing the paint, leaving our 3-point shooters open, which they did last year and we couldn’t hit those shots.”
Through three games this season, Tech is 23-of-57 (40.4 percent).
“This year, they’re worrying about Cubaj and Liz Dixon, and those (other) players are stepping up and hitting those shots outside of Francesca Pan,” Joseph said.
The coach isn’t kidding when she says, “I feel like this team is a work in progress. Every day we’re going to get better. We’re getting these young players as much experience as we can.”
Tech welcomed back some experience Wednesday. Junior Chanin Scott played for the first time after missing the first two games with a cranky back.
She played in 70 games in her first two seasons, starting 22 last season.
Scott — whose father Patrick played in the NFL with the Panthers and Steelers, and mother, Tanya Filmore-Scott, ran track and cross country at South Carolina State – can be helpful.
She had four points and a couple rebounds in 10 minutes off the bench.
“Having Chanin Scott back is a huge bonus, especially on the defensive end and on the boards,” Joseph said.
Maybe Tech is blending at a good time. A Catamount, by the way, is basically a bobcat.
The Bulldogs (2-1) will be another matter Sunday in McCamish Pavilion.
“We know they’re going to be coming in here off a loss (80-69 Tuesday at UCLA) and they’re going to be hungry, and it’s a Georgia-Georgia Tech game; you just throw everybody’s record out,” Joseph said. “We need those kinds of games to figure out where we are. This is a big game for us. I’m excited to see where we are.”