ATLANTA, GEORGIA — There’s not much to say this week, given that yours truly has been out of pocket the past week, and the only in-action sports were both on COVID-related pauses. Of note, I am currently tinkering with the RECC output and, accordingly, there will be no plots of that this week - spoiler alert, nothing much has changed.
As a general final note on volleyball, it is worth identifying that the objective numbers (Massey and RPI) had them at the 7th and 5th best team in the country, which jives much better than the final AVCA poll, which had them at 8th. There’s no trophy for 5th place, but Georgia Tech absolutely played like a top-5 program for most of this season, and that designation is a well earned coda to the season. Anyways, on to women’s basketball talk.
Overall: 9-3 / Last Week: 1-0
Polls - AP Poll: 16 | Coaches: 16
Nerd Stuff - Massey: 30 | NET: 22
There has been quite literally one day of Tech sports since men’s basketball took on Georgia State the week before Christmas, and that was the post-New Year’s Day doubleheader featuring not one, but two games against the Louisville Cardinals at McCamish Pavilion. Both would turn on their final few positions, but the edition that concerns this here column is the matinee featuring the women’s basketball team.
Of course, it is a fair question to ask why there have only been these two Louisville-relatyed games since the last edition of Yellow Jacket Roundup, and, well, it wasn’t because they got a nice, long post-finals holiday break. Rather, the Jackets were on the shelf in COVID protocols, much as the men’s and women’s teams had around this time last year, as well. In the interim, the women’s team had been scheduled to play Pitt to open the heart of conference play earlier in the week, but that game is postponed with a makeup yet to be announced.
With the realities of COVID in place, the primary challenge for Tech was to suit up a starting lineup of players. With the majority of the roster in health and safety protocols, the Jackets had just seven players available, though the starting lineup of Lorela Cubaj, Lotta-Maj Lahtinen, Digna Strautmane, Nerea Hermosa, and Eylia Love is about as good of a set of five one could ask for, given the circumstances. AC Carter and Carmyn Harrison were available off the bench, with both seeing time, though Harrison came in for just a spell at the end of the first half.
Given the available rotation, Tech was playing a relatively tall lineup, though a top 5 opponent with a full bench known for playing good defense in the paint would certainly mean Tech - a top 20 team in their own right - would need to work hard for points, particularly inside the key.
Tech was certainly able to use their talented starting rotation to emphatically control the first quarter. In the first, they allowed just three points, which came off a made basket and a sole free throw after a foul. That ties in nicely to another point - Louisville was exceptionally poor from the free throw line in this game. While this is a known issue for Tech, who were sub-60% from the line in this game, Louisville left a lot of points on the board in their 7-16 showing. At the end of the first, Tech had a decisive advantage in the game and were still relatively fresh.
As the game wore on, though, the clear advantage Louisville had not only as a very good team, but a very deep team, started to show. The point was made rather emphatically when the entire Louisville five was swapped in the second quarter, and the Cardinals rocketed back with a seventeen point quarter to end the half tied at 20. However, much as turnovers would define the end stages of the game, a critical rushed possession with under thirty seconds left in the half that came up short for Tech allowed Louisville to tie the game, rather than Tech running out the clock and entering halftime with a three point lead.
In the third quarter, Tech once again came out quickly, limiting Louisville to single digits once more and taking advantage of their play by drawing fouls. With Love and Lahtinen in foul trouble - with only a few players on the bench, even two or three make a difference in playing time early in the game - the fact that they were drawing opportunities at the line was important, so long as they weren’t committing lots of fouls the other way, too.
Louisville’s coach, though, was not pleased at the direction of the calls, and certainly made that known, as he stomped far out onto the court, even causing a technical to be called on him as he argued a call on Cubaj should have been a technical, even though the fact that it was an ordinary foul was questionable at best. Tech, for their part, didn’t do much with the gift of a possession and two free throws, making one and coming up empty on the return to play.
In the fourth, the short bench caught up to Tech both with respect to fouls and exhaustion, which, in hindsight, are probably inextricably linked, as well. The Jackets found themselves on the wrong side of the whistle a disproportionate amount of times, in a harsh turnaround from the previous quarter, to the point that Love did indeed foul out with a few minutes remaining in the quarter.
Despite all that, Tech was actually leading the ballgame by two scores with two minutes to play, with possession of the ball, as well. Louisville had been pressing on defense throughout the afternoon, and a pair of turnovers rapidly sent the game the other direction, as they flipped a 47-42 deficit to a 50-48 lead on a layup by Emily Engstler, their leading scorer, who had seen success on the drive, particularly as foul trouble mounted for the Jackets. Much like Strautmane, Engstler is a a Syracuse transfer, as that program has seen significant turmoil in the past year.
Tech had one last opportunity to score, but that two point deficit would hold in favor of the healthy and deep visiting Louisville Cardinals.
From a high level, Tech did a phenomenal job considering their significant limitations during the game and the troublingly high turnover count in the face of the staunch press from the Cardinals. When better rested in the first and third quarters, they dominated, and the game really turned on a few key foul calls sprinkled throughout the game, the lead surrendered at halftime, or the critical late turnovers. Their offense was balanced - Strautmane led the way with 13, while Cubaj and Lahtinen were both in double figures and Hermosa had 8 of her own - and the Jackets were 8-17 from beyond the three point arc, which is a fantastic showing and a great improvement from previous games this season. Though Tech often dominates on the boards, they were able to keep the numbers pretty even there, which is important, given the bruising Louisville defense and foul concerns. Love may have been 1-10 from the field - a tough performance - but her team leading +13 on the +/- shows her presence was felt for certain in other aspects of the game.
As Tech fans with a lengthy memory would take note of when playing Louisville, former Tech starter Elizabeth Dixon, who transferred to Louisville before the arrival of Coach Nell Fortner, she had a quiet game coming off the bench, reeling in two rebounds and posting a block, a foul, and a turnover in 11 minutes of playing time. As for her fellow former starter, former ACC Freshman of the Year Elizabeth Balogun has transferred to Duke in the offseason, and, well, the Jackets will square up with her in their next game on Thursday at Cameron Indoor. The Blue Devils are ranked just behind Tech in the polls, and the game will tip at 7:00 PM on ACCNX.
1/4 - at Duke
1/8 - Notre Dame
1/6 - at Duke
1/9 - Virginia
Swimming and Diving:
1/8 - at Auburn
Indoor Track and Field:
1/8 - at Clemson (Orange and Purple Classic)