McCAMISH PAVILION — Beginning a four of five game stretch at home, Georgia Tech Women’s Basketball hosted the #23 North Carolina Tar Heels, losing 73-68 after a late Yellow Jacket 4th quarter run to pull within a possession. Tech falls to 12-6 overall (3-3 ACC) and are on a two game losing streak.
Georgia Tech Nell Fortner was ill, so Associate Head Coach/Offensive Coordinator Blanche Alverson took over as the lead coach on the bench for the Jackets.
UNC’s Deja Kelly ran all over Tech, scoring the game high 27 points including 8-10 from the free throw line in the fourth quarter where she didn’t hit a bucket in the run of play.
“Deja Kelly is a great player. Everybody knows that, so we just try to matchup with her best we could,” said Georgia Tech guard Kara Dunn. Tech ultimately ran a man on man defense the entire game, providing plenty of opportunities for Kelly to take advantage of a single defender to get buckets or earn trips to the free thow line.
Dunn’s 14 points accounted for her 11th straight game with 10+ points, shooting a clean 5-8 from the field and 3-4 from the line, along with a game high six rebounds.
Of note, this was the second straight game that freshman Ari Termis scored in double-digits off the bench, scoring 11 tonight and going 3-4 from beyond the arc.
“She came alive during Duke and came into this game with no fear going against some really tough players in this league,” said Alverson after the game of Termis.
Tech was down as much as 14 in the fourth quarter, a similar spot they found themselves in last game at Duke which then turned into a disaster, but managed to turn it around from seven Rusne Augustinaite points while holding UNC scoreless from the field in the final 5:31.
“We knew last game was unacceptable. Coach Nell said if we get down we can either get worse or get better. None of us want to feel that again. That was our main focus, to keep punching back,” said Dunn.
And punch they did. Down 67-60 with 29 seconds left, Rusne hit a deep three pointer and got fouled, converting the four point play at the line to make it 67-64. Tech forced a turnover at the other end, but spoiled the opportunity to shrink the deficit after Tonie Morgan was called for a travel, forcing Tech to foul.
Inés Noguero hit a three with 11.2 seconds left to make it 69-67 UNC, but Deja Kelly continued to sink free throws, winning it for UNC despite Tech hitting seven of their final eight shots.
How the game unfolded
With Aixa Wone Aranaz starting, Tech had a stronger defensive presence at the beginning of the game, holding UNC to 2-9 shooting in the first five minutes and out rebouding the Tar Heels 8-4. The first quarter ended with a missed jumper from Augustinaite resulting in a transition bucket from the Tar Heels, increasing their lead to 17-11.
2nd Quarter (17-11 UNC)
The second opened with a blocked shot from D’asia Thomas-Harris, but the momentum didn’t stay in favor of the Jackets for long. Maria Gakdeng put up six quick points inside the paint for UNC. There were signs of life on the offense starting with a three from Termis and a second-chance score from Kayla Blackshear. The Jackets went on a scoring tear with 10 unanswered points, but the Tar Heels were finally able to end their drought from the charity stripe. Turnovers plagued both teams throughout the first half with Tech racking up 10 and UNC with six. The Jackets headed to the locker room down by two thanks to Kara Dunn’s three-ball just before time expired.
3rd Quarter (30-28 UNC)
The offense on both sides was pretty stagnant early until Kelly hit a three with about eight minutes left in the third. Kara Dunn answered back with a transition layup and the Jackets were on the board in the second half. Both teams traded offensive blows for a good portion of the third, but the Tar Heels proved more successful on offense. A late foul in the third sent Kara Dunn to the line and Tonie Morgan limping to the locker room. Dunn sunk both free throws, and Morgan returned to the court early in the fourth.
4th Quarter (54-46 UNC)
North Carolina found more success by pushing the ball in transition, resulting in their largest lead of the game a 14 with 6:03 left. From there, Blackshear blocked a shot, Augustinaite made her first three in eight days, and Morgan hit a transition bucket, cutting the lead to seven with 4:10 left. Morgan showed out on the defensive end as well, playing timely lockdown defense on leading scorer Deja Kelly. Noguero posted her first bucket of the game to make it 66-60 with 2:36 left.
After Deja Kelly hit a free throw to make it a three possession game with 1:53 left, or so we thought, no one scored until Augustinaite got fouled on a made three pointer, then sinking the free throw to make it 67-64 with 29 seconds left. With the ball and a chance to tie, Tonie Morgan traveled beneath the basket, all but ending it for Tech.
Points: Deja Kelly (UNC) - 27
Assists: Tonie Morgan (GT) - 9
Rebounds: Tonie Morgan (GT)/Kara Dunn (GT) - 6
Turnovers: Tonie Morgan (GT) - 5
- Transition play: Tech wants to play fast, but ultimately that comes from their ability to defend and actually create chances to run on their opponent.
“For us, it starts on the defensive end. We have to be able to get stops to be able to push in transition. I thought our defensive focus was better tonight and I thought our urgency was better than it was on Sunday. We put a lot of emphasis on that,” said Alverson.
I’m no basketball savant, but that checks out. But, one thing I’ve noticed is early in the season they would try to be quick off a normal inbounds pass, but the last few games this has not been the case. North Carolina repeatedly would get to half court quickly regardless of how they got possession. Tech doesn’t do that yet. Setting a faster tempo no matter the situation really could help alleviate some of the physicality they face but also over time establish the speed this offense with this core of Dunn/Morgan/Noguero/Blackshear will run at over the next couple seasons.
- Containing the best players: It’s Ta’Niya Latson one night and Deja Kelly on another. These are two of the best players in the ACC for good reason, but Tech’s defense is not yet at a point where they are making life seriously difficult for the ACC’s best players. I agree with Alverson that the intensity absolutely was better and it was a big factor in giving Tech a chance to pull out this game, but the road to becoming the defenses of 2019-2021 is a long way away.
- Termis or Aranaz?: After the last two games, Termis has played 35 more minutes than Aranaz at the forward spot. If there’s going to be a big in the lineup (Aranaz took Augustinaite’s place tonight), Termis needs to get these starts. She actually contributes offensively, has the physicality to get rebounds, moves much better than Aranaz, and already has a world of experience having played national team basketball in Spain. Only three times this season has Aranaz finished with more than three rebounds. That won’t cut if if she’s going to play close to the basket as she usually does. If I’m the coaching staff, I fully commit to giving Termis the full load of minutes she can handle. She’s a crucial piece to the future of this team that needs to start rounding into shape next year. Aranaz won’t be here. Might as well play the kids.
Georgia Tech Women’s Basketball next plays Sunday, January 21 at 2 p.m. against Boston College on ACCNX