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#TGW: Comfort Zone

Nov. 26, 2014

By Matt Winkeljohn
The Good Word

As the Yellow Jackets returned to work Tuesday evening in a game against Grambling State, they prioritized one mission above all others. It was a two-part plan: pound the ball into the paint, and convert.

Rodreeka Rogers was both a benefactor and a facilitator as her homecoming tour continued. The junior scored 10 points and grabbed a game-high 15 rebounds for her third double-double of the young season for Georgia Tech.

She added a career-high five assists, too, to tie point guard Antonia Peresson for team honors in that category as the Jackets (4-1) dominated from start to finish in a 97-64 win over the Tigers (2-4) in McCamish Pavilion.

The over-riding statistic of importance for head coach MaChelle Joseph was the Jackets’ 50-22 edge in points scored in the paint, which is where Rogers did all of her scoring in the first half.

The 6-foot junior from Charlotte is flourishing in a modified role, where she is often the Jackets’ primary and even solo option near the basket at center – her home position.

Rarely any more is she found floating around the high post, and, frankly, that’s just fine by her. She’s most comfortable, and effective, in the middle of things.

All five of her baskets came on layups.

“I’ve been playing the [center spot]. In high school, I played center, and I just like it,” she said after making 5-of-8 shots, all in the first half as the Jackets moved to a 47-26 lead. “I like playing closer to the rim because I like to shoot layups more than anything.

“[In the past], I was closer to the free throw line, and I’m not really a shooter. Being on the post just gives me an advantage to do my moves.”

Coming off Sunday’s narrow 64-57 loss to No. 22 Georgia, Joseph was looking for more in the middle, not necessarily from Rogers alone as she was 5-for-9 with 13 points and eight rebounds against the Bulldogs.

She scored 10 of Tech’s 24 paint points.

Tuesday, Jackets other than Rogers tallied 40 points in the paint against the Tigers (2-4). That was more like it, a fine tune-up for Tech’s pending trip to Naples, Fla., where the Jackets on Friday will play Green Bay to open the Gulf Coast Showcase.

“One of the things we wanted to focus on was making layups, which is something we didn’t do; it was a concern of mine – making layups with contact,” Joseph said. “That was one of the things that hurt us against Georgia, starting the game missing 17 of our first 23 shots and still having the opportunity to win.”

The Jackets put in extra work on this. They shoot from close range with teammates, coaches and members of the men’s practice squad leaning on or pounding them.

“That’s what we have all the pads for, and the Gold squad guys. We have a drill that we do where we have four or five pads on them and we try to power through and make the layups,” Joseph said. “It becomes a head game . . . you’ve got to see yourself making the layup [with contact].”

Results were immediate on Tuesday.

After Aaliyah Whiteside took and missed the first shot of the game, Rogers rebounded and scored. She did the same thing a few minutes later for a 9-2 lead, and moments after that she passed to Sydney Wallace for a layup.

There’s more to working with the ball in the paint than scoring it. At times, it may not be prudent to go straight back up with an offensive rebound. If swarmed, another option may be best.

When Rogers whipped the ball out of the paint and to Wallace for a 3-pointer and a 64-38 lead with 13:46 left in the game, that was proof.

In fact, when asked whether she feels better grabbing an offensive rebound and scoring or grabbing a offensive rebound and firing to a teammate for a 3-pointer, Rogers grinned, and said, “Ooh, draining the 3. It brings so much energy.”

The Jackets are so far better at that this season, as their 10-for-16 effort from afar Tuesday night demonstrated. Kaela Davis made 4-of-8 treys on the way to a game-high 20 points, and Katarina Vuckovic hit 3-of-4 from distance.

Wallace is a dynamic scorer, pouring in 15 of her 18 points after halftime, and when Rogers is moving the ball through the post, Tech is more dynamic.

She’s averaging 11.2 points and a whopping 12.2 rebounds, well above her career averages of 5.3 and 6.9.

There is no doubt the Jackets will gladly take her 63.9 percent shooting, and an offensive efficiency that equates to 1.56 points scored for every field goal attempted (she’s 23-for-36 with 56 points). Davis is averaging 1.11 points per shot while averaging a team-high 18.8 points per game.

Yet the career-high five assists may be the best harbinger of things to come.

“Rodreeka Rogers has been our most consistent player along with Kaela Davis,” Joseph said. “We’re trying to get Rodreeka more shots. I want her to take 8-12 shots a game. She’s got to get more touches. Most of her scoring opportunities come on offensive rebounds. I want us to use her more, and play inside-out.

“We’ve moved her to the focal point . . . and that’s helped her and helped our perimeter players get shots. . . . With her skill set so enhanced and her basketball IQ so advanced . . . she knows angles, understands schemes, doesn’t waste a lot of energy. She understands the game in a way other players her age don’t.”

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