Nov. 17, 2014
By Jon Cooper
The Good Word
Alex Montgomery was one of the best three-point shooters in the history of the Georgia Tech Women’s Basketball program.
But, as with any superstar, Montgomery had nights when she either wasn’t getting her shots off or, when she did she couldn’t get them to go down. On those nights, the Yellow Jackets’ perimeter game basically was non-existent.
In Sunday’s home-opener against Morgan State, Kaela Davis, Georgia Tech’s All-ACC guard shot 0-for-8 from the three-point line. But instead of halting Tech’s perimeter game, all the 0-fer did was take away from the team’s final three-point shooting percentage, dropping it just below 40 percent (.391). The rest of the team, shooting a blazing 60 percent, making nine 3’s, six of them in the first half to key the 105-76 rout of the Bears.
Strength in numbers from behind the arc is all according to Head Coach MaChelle Joseph’s plan. It’s a plan that’s starting to come to fruition.
“One of the things we’ve tried to do over the last couple of years is recruit more shooters,” said Joseph, who recorded the 215th win as a head coach and the program’s 590th. “I feel like we’ve been able to do that. With Antonia Peresson and Katarina Vuckovic we really have been able to spread the floor, along with Kaela Davis and Sydney Wallace. Obviously, Aaliyah Whiteside today was able to step up and make some big shots, so we have several players capable. It’s just one of those nights where Kaela’s threes weren’t falling and we were still able to get nine 3’s from other players, which is kind of unheard of for us.”
The nine 3’s gives the Jackets 20 in their first two games, having shot 11-for-25 in Friday night’s season-opener.
Junior Sydney Wallace was the main gunner Sunday, going 4-for-5 from downtown. She’s now 6-for-11 for the season. Also making at least two 3PTFGMs were junior guard Whiteside (2-for-3), the game’s leading scorer with 26 points, and Vuckovic, the sophomore guard, who is now 5-for-9 from beyond the arc in two games.
“It’s great. With so many people being able to shoot 3’s it expands everything,” said Wallace, who was 4-for-4 shooting in the first 22 minutes, 3-for-3 from three-point range and scored 14 points for the game. “It opens up the paint, which is great because we have great inside players as well. So it’s just a great thing to have so many people that can score from the perimeter.
“In the past Coach was always saying we need to get the ball inside and once you get the ball inside good things happen,” Wallace added. “I feel like that happened today. We were able to get the ball inside and then transfer it out to the three-point line. So it’s just great. You have to get the ball inside. Coach always says play from the inside-out and that’s what we did. We did a good job executing that. I feel like having a great inside game helped the team.”
So many first-half threes from so many sources forced the Bears to spread the floor, opening up the lane in the second half, allowing Whiteside,Davis (22 points, 8-for-12 inside the arc), sophomore forward Roddreka Rogers (17 points, 17 rebounds) and freshman forward Zaire O’Neil (13 points) to dominate in the paint, where the Jackets outscored the Bears, 42-30, and in second-chance points (Tech had a 24-6 edge).
“I definitely think they were worried about our perimeter shooting and when somebody plays a zone we’re going to make some shots,” said Joseph. “We’re hard to guard in man-to-man. So we’re going to see a lot of 2-3 zone and I think the fadct that we have this many capable shooters really opens up the floor.”
While Joseph was pleased with the way her team played in space, she was less happy about, and more focused on, how they defended. The Bears scored 76 points — more than double the 36 they scored in their season-opener Friday, a 58-36 loss at Georgia, while shooting 55.6 percent in the second half. While the game wasn’t really in doubt in the second 20 — Tech led by 18 at intermission and by as much as 31 in the second half — that was still 21 points higher than the first half.
“We’ve got to be able to defend better than what we have,” Joseph said. “I know that’s the sign of a young team. It’s a journey and we’ve got to continue to work on our defense, our team defense and our individual defense. We’re fouling too much (Tech committed 16 fouls).
She was sure the team would improve its effort and turn up the intensity in its next game on Wednesday against Kennesaw State at McCamish Pavilion (tip-off is at 7:00 p.m.).
“Those are things you have to demand day in and day out and it has to become a habit,” Joseph said. “Right now it’s not a habit. Having six young players that doesn’t surprise me that we struggle from time to time on the defensive end.”
To turn that trend around, Joseph is looking to senior guard Wallace.
“One of the things we need from Sydney is to become a great defender,” she said. “We’ve got to have somebody that can stop the ball. We’ve got to have somebody that can be our catalyst on the defensive end and that’s the expectation we have with Syd..”
Wallace agrees and is eager to shoulder the responsibility.
“I have to be the one to set the tone,” she said. “Obviously, that didn’t happen today so I have to go back and re-evaluate. It’s all about communication, talking and once we do that we’ll get stops.”
That re-evaluation begins at Monday’s practice.
“You just have to go in with the mindset that you want to get better,” she said. “You have to want to do the things to get better. So all-in-all we just have to come together and have a great mindset, getting stops on defense and we’ll be good.”