A For Effort
Hard work not the issue for women’s hoops in 2-7 conference record
By Jon Cooper
The Good Word
You can’t teach effort. Georgia Tech women’s basketball head coach MaChelle Joseph doesn’t have to, as her Yellow Jackets have shown an abundance of effort and grit all season.
What hasn’t yet shown up is the reward for that hard work in the win column, as after Sunday afternoon, Tech stood at 2-7 in ACC play.
Tremendous effort and hustle but a frustrating result was once again the story Sunday afternoon at McCamish Pavilion, in the 62-56 loss to Virginia.
What made Tech’s sixth loss in seven games and third straight by six points, so puzzling in retrospect was that the Yellow Jackets did so many things right. They forced 26 turnovers, held a dominating 20-5 edge on the offensive glass, made 13 steals to the Cavaliers’ four, had a 24-5 advantage in points off turnovers and even shot more free throws, 20-19 -- an edge that would have been even greater if not for the six they took in the final 40 seconds as the Jackets furious rally from 13 down with 5:17 to go fell short. They’d make a 10-0 run and get as close as three with 40 seconds left.
“I’m proud of the fact we never quit,” said Joseph. “I thought [Sunday] we had some stretches of good basketball but it’s not enough. You have to play 40 minutes in this league. You can’t play three quarters.”
For those three quarters the Jackets’ hustle and ability to force the Cavaliers into turnovers with their press, pointed toward a win over a Virginia team which entered Sunday in a flat-footed tie at the top of the ACC with No. 3 Louisville and No. 6 Notre Dame with a 7-1 conference mark. Yet, the Cavs, who sat on the periphery of the top 25, with an RV (receiving votes) next to its name, were sitting on their heels.
The Jackets were beating them on the offensive glass, making them uncomfortable with their press and getting shots in the lane, often under the basket, as the Cavs abandoned their more common zone to exclusively play man-to-man.
But the Jackets’ inability to sink shots sank them. The Jackets shot 30.6 percent for the game and did not make a three-point shot.
Their most costly cold snap came early in the fourth quarter. After a Francesca Pan jumper put the Jackets ahead, 44-43 with 9:03 to play, they would not score for more than six minutes. Four of the missed shots in that drought were layups. They also missed two of four free throw attempts.
Those two categories really frustrated Joseph.
“If I had the answer I’d be a millionaire. We missed 32 layups at Virginia Tech,” she said, after Tech missed 22 of 33 on Sunday. “We work on layups every day. We’re very physical with them in practice, we have warm-ups, everything we can do to make them make layups. I think a lot of it has to do with confidence. I think you have to be a confident player. You have to expect to make shots, not expect to get fouled. That's one of the things our players have to do, they have to play through contact. There’s no secret formula here. It’s make layups, make free throws.”
Of the 22 missed layup attempts, 11 of them never reached the basket, getting swatted away. The Jackets missed seven layups in the final stanza, five of them blocked.
There was a mitigating factor, as the ACC’s leading shot-blocker 6-9 Felicia Aiyeotan planted herself in the lane and accounted for five of the Cavaliers’ 13 blocks on the day, while altering other shots.
Joseph wasn’t buying that.
“They knew that was coming. You don’t go at a 6-9 kid when you’re 5-6. You pull up and shoot a jump shot,” she said. “That’s one of the things where our seniors have to be smarter. You have to play smart and you have to pull up for a 10-footer.
“You have to play hard and you have to play smart every night in this league,” she said. “This league is tough. It’s unforgiving and if you don’t make layups and you don’t make free throws, it’s hard to win. We forced 26 turnovers. Anytime you force 26 turnovers you should win. We get to the free throw line 20 times. You’ve got to make more than 12.”
Redshirt senior Elo Edeferioka was a force on the boards, pulling down nine rebounds, four off the offensive glass -- both game-highs. Freshman point guard Kierra Fletcher also was strong, grabbing eight boards, two on the offensive end. Pan pulled down three offensive rebounds, all on the offensive end. Her hustle was something of a counterbalance to a tough 6-for-22 (0-for-6 from three) shooting night.
“I’m proud of Francesca Pan for being aggressive. Obviously she needs to make more shots but at least she came out and was aggressive,” said Joseph. “I hope that Zaire O’Neil will continue to work on her game and step up down the stretch and make her free throws in the fourth quarter and hit her layups.”
The Jackets have seven regular-season games left to turn things around, beginning Thursday, with a visit to Cameron Indoor to play Duke, then a Sunday trip to Bon Secours Wellness Arena to face Clemson. Any turnaround must begin mentally with the team finding an identity and a big-shot maker.
She stated with similar certainty that the team will continue to give its all in facing every challenge.
“We’re definitely playing hard. We haven’t quit playing. We’re going to continue to play hard,” she said. “I’m going to coach us like we’re undefeated. That’s just what I do. It would be different if we’re not getting the shots. But you’re getting layups. You’ve got to put the ball in the basket. You’re getting free throws. You’ve got to hit your free throws. Those are just common-sense things that you have to do to put people away.”