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Womens basketball’s keys to a successful finish in 2023

A week left before the ACC Championship

Danny Karnik - GT Athletics

One name was noticeably absent from Georgia Tech and Wake Forest’s previous matchup this season, and that was Wake’s leading scorer, Jewel Spear. Coming into February 16, she averaged 16.0 points per game, sixth in the ACC. Wake also came in boasting the second best scoring defense in the ACC at 58.44 points per game, 50th nationally.

With that and two consecutive backsliding games, Tech in their 2023 Celebrating Black Excellence jerseys against Wake had only three games to use to find some footing before ACC Championship play.

Similarly to their first matchup, the game stayed close, but Tech managed to pull ahead let in the third quarter and kept the lead growing to a 56-44 lead. Even the proceeding couple of minutes of delicate, lead-preserving basketball that nearly threw away the lead was not enough for the Demon Deacons to take a late win.

Today against Florida State, Tech ran into the same inescapable threat that is Ta’Niya Latson and the #1 scoring offense Seminoles. She leads the ACC in scoring at 21.75 points per game (8th nationally) and put up her 7th 30-point game of the season today.

This was a much different team than what faced Florida State the first time on New Year’s Day. For one, that was Bianca Jackson’s last game in the starting rotation (at least for now) this season, but most critically was a game that lacked any sense of urgency from Tech.

Florida State did pull away with the win today 80-66, dropping Tech to 13th in the ACC at 4-12 and 13-14 overall. Tech though stayed or played themselves into striking distance until the last five or so minutes of the game.

Even with the 14-point loss, this game in no way (to me at least) is a failure. Ever since that game, it’s been a slow but productive grind, and today was as emblematic of the progress Tech has shown as any other game with how much better they are competing and keeping games close far longer than before.

What Tech has going for them as of late

  • Kara Dunn is making moves. She put down a 20-point game against Pitt, and then a 21-point game four days later, both career highs. She’s looked more comfortable driving to the basket, make or miss, and stayed patient with her corner three despite shooting 25% from beyond the arc. Fornter repeatedly has mentioned that they just have to keep getting better. Piece by piece, they have, and Dunn is one of the most important parts of that.
  • It took half the season, but Tech finally has a stable lineup with determined roles. Tonie Morgan, Cameron Swartz, Kayla Blackshear, Aixa Wone Aranaz, and Kara Dunn have started the last six games, Fortner’s only lineup lasting five or more games. Of those that regularly played in the rotation, only Inés Noguero has truly fallen out of the lineup recently. While she certainly made impacts with her court vision, Nell eventually couldn’t afford to play her in against physically dominating opponents. Eylia Love technically counts in this category too, but transferred to Louisville mid-season.

While the lineup certainly hasn’t had the smoothest run (glaring defensive issues against Clemson and Pitt), it immediately patched its issues in the win against Wake Forest, and today played as good as one would expect against Latson and the rest of the Seminoles.

  • While this is long-term plus, I’m sneaking it in. It’s that we have Nell freakin’ Fortner. Tech is truly blessed to have a coach like Nell that has seen it all collegiately, professionally, and internationally. At press conferences, she’s been rightfully displeased with the games, but knew this team had more to give every time they played. She regularly brings up how competitive their practices are, which seem to be why Aranaz won out the starting center spot from Nerea Hermosa after seven games. She will not let up until she gets every bit she can out of her players, and she’ll keep asking for more.

I don’t think the losing streak necessarily was because the team gave up (they did have plenty of poor stretches, how else do you lose seven straight?), but instead is because this team was brand new and super young. While there isn’t as much discussion around the women’s team as there is the men’s, Fortner was never brought up as a reason for the losing streak. Maybe there were a couple things here and there that could’ve changed, but putting that on her in my opinion would’ve been uncalled for.

  • Tech has too many weapons to be considered a bad team, but more importantly have weapons that can compete in the ACC and haven’t even begun to scrape the surface of their full potential (looking at you Morgan, Dunn, D’Asia Thomas). Ever since beating #15 NC State, every player has shown levels of comfort in all phases that didn’t exist in non-conference play.
  • Tech can shoot free throws! Outside of Hermosa, no Jacket shot over 70% from the line last year. This year, they’ve led the ACC for the overwhelming majority of the season, shooting .756 coming into February 17 with eight players shooting 70% or better. This by far is Tech’s best growth point. Granted, Hermosa is the only player between the two rosters with at least 15 attempts in both seasons, and ironcially has dropped from her 81% mark to 73% this year.

What Tech doesn’t have going for them:

  • They are young. Ultimately, that’s what Fortner regularly comes back to in wins or losses at press conferences, and it’s an unavoidable fact of this team. Tech is rebuilding this year as much as an NCAA team feasibly can. Sadly, there are no high draft picks to be earned from this season.
  • Tech in a knockout situation should not be feared. Again, it’s because of the youth and the rawness this team still has. Tech honestly didn’t play up to NC State when they pulled off that win. They will enter the ACC Tournament somewhere between a 12-15 seed, and fully deserve it. On that...
  • Tech after the Feburary 19 Florida State loss, Tech sits 13th in the ACC, tied with Virginia but losing the tiebreaker via head-to-head. If the tournament started today, they would play the #12 seed in the first game and play the #5 seed if they won. If I’m Tech, getting to the #10 spot is best, because that puts them in the part of the bracket where the #6 seed is the 2nd round matchup, but odds are slim Tech gets there.

We’ll have more WBB talk on Scions of the Southland this week and recaps of the final 3+ games. Tech next plays Thursday, February 23 at Notre Dame at 6 p.m.