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#TGW: Embracing The Challenge

March 23, 2014

By Matt Winkeljohn
The Good Word

A bit of scattershooting . . . surely it’s easy to wonder from afar if you are a fan of Georgia Tech athletics but not dialed into the women’s basketball team why the Yellow Jackets are a 10-seed boxed into the un-fun prospect of playing No. 7 LSU today at 12:40 p.m. ON ITS HOME FLOOR.

It’s simple: Money.

Well, it goes a little beyond what happens at the cash register, in a way, because the NCAA and the powers that govern the game of women’s basketball are searching for ways to pump up their sport and the sight of empty seats doesn’t exactly attract TV opportunities.

Then again, TV opps fetch cash, so . . . we’re back to money.

Where the men’s tournament is staged, for the most part, at neutral sites – although Duke’s loss to Mercer Friday was in Raleigh, N.C., for example, and Blue Devils fans had ultra-easy chances to attend their team’s face plant – the women go the first round and second with campus sites.

The way the men’s tournament is set up, there may be some tournament games played in the city of a tournament team but the team from that city NEVER plays at that site. Close, perhaps, like Duke – to foster attendance and reward teams that have built solid resumes.

Tech (20-11) went 6-2 in the second half of the ACC season, upset North Carolina and registered a very nice win at Florida State along the way, and won a game in the ACC tournament before falling to Duke.

LSU (19-12), meanwhile, lost their last six regular season games, won one in the SEC Tournament, and then lost to Tennessee. Yet, Tech is down on the Bayou, preparing to play the Tigers.

Tech coach MaChelle Joseph does not exactly like that, but she gets it.

“It’s interesting; we’ve had a lot of experience at this in our seven trips. We’ve probably played on a home court five of the seven times,” Joseph said. “But we understand where women’s basketball is at this point. We understand it’s not something that’s ideal but it’s something that’s necessary.

“We’re trying to grow our game. We’ve got to do what’s best for our game at this point. And it’s one of things where you would like to be on a neutral floor, but you’re not so you have to embrace the opportunity you’ve been given.”

The Jackets’ chances in Baton Rouge are improved because junior guard Sydney Wallace will return to action after missing a few weeks with an injury.

She’s Tech’s top 3-point shooter, and was a big part of why the Jackets scored more points this season – averaging 79.7 per game – than most Joseph squads.

When Wallace is on the floor, the paint opens because a defense will push out a bit to tend to the sharpshooter. That works for senior Tyaunna Marshall, who is a slasher and Tech’s all-time leading scorer.

It doesn’t hurt freshman Kaela Davis, either.

The Jackets were 3-5 in the first half of the ACC season because their defense was not up to snub. It still isn’t, frankly.

Tech has morphed because of the new nature of talent in the program.

“We built this program on defense and rebounding. We’ve been able to win games on the offensive end, and that’s been exciting because obviously I love offense,” said Joseph, who is smeared across the Purdue record books for her keen offensive skills while playing collegiately for the Boilermakers.

“But back when we started this program we didn’t have those types of players. So this year has been exciting down the stretch like you mentioned, before Sydney had her injury, we were scoring pretty well, amazingly well, and . . . we feel very confident now on the offensive end.”

The return of Wallace is large.

She’s made 47-of-140 3-pointers this season (33.6 percent) despite shooting the long ball less than she might have because Joseph has deployed her a great deal at the point position rather than at the 2.

To demonstrate the difference in the Jackets, Wallace led the team with 48 made treys last season. Her 47 this year are a distant second to Davis’ 83.

That’s not Marshall’s game. She is 7-for-18 from beyond the arc, but when Wallace and Davis are on the floor and rolling, Marshall has that much more room to operate, to roll to the rim.

In ACC games, the Jackets made 34.7 percent of their 3-pointers; opponents made 30 percent. That’s not a typical balance for a Joseph squad. But Tech has been outrebounded by more than three per game in conference play, and their overall field goal percentage (42.7) lags their overall field goal defense (44.2).

Marshall averages 19.6 points per game (after a slow start to her season), Davis averages 18.6 and Wallace 9.5. It figures to be good to have the third wheel back.

“I feel good,” Wallace said. “I’ve taken the right steps and everything in getting back to where I need to be, just resting and making sure I’m doing what I need to do and just gradually getting back to where I was before, getting up shots, kind of just sitting down and learning and watching, also. I feel like I’m ready to play.”

The same goes for Joseph, even though the Jackets are on an opponent’s floor.

“LSU does a great job drawing attendance and we’re going to embrace this opportunity and go out . . . .and give them the best effort we have,” the Tech coach said. “We’ve had some very good practices and feel like we’re playing our best basketball at the right time.

“I would like to believe that the women’s game will grow to the point where we won’t have to be on home courts and we can have neutral sites. We’re . . . trying to grow our game and get to that point where we can copy what the men have done and draw enough fans that we can play on neutral floors.”

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