Ga. Tech looks for long run in NCAA tourney

MaChelle Joseph conducted Georgia Tech’s practice wearing a

shirt that celebrated another trip to the NCAA tournament.

”Together We Dance,” it said on the back.

Of course, making it this far is nothing new for the Yellow


Dancing for more than a week has always been the issue.

Georgia Tech (24-8) has never made it past the second round,

keeping the program from gaining more national recognition despite

six straight NCAA appearances.

For Joseph, the team’s ninth-year coach, getting to the

tournament is no longer good enough. The Yellow Jackets need to

take the next step – to win at least two tournament games and

advance to the round of 16 for the first time.

”That’s something we’ve talked about all year,” Joseph said

Thursday. ”For this program, a Sweet 16 would be just another step

forward to making us a perennial power in women’s basketball. We

know that to be an established program, you’ve got to have some

success in the postseason.”

The Yellow Jackets are better positioned to make such a run than

ever before.

This team is on quite a roll, having won 15 of 17 games and

going to the wire with fifth-ranked Maryland before losing a 68-65

thriller in the championship game at the Atlantic Coast Conference


Then Georgia Tech received a No. 4 seed, its highest ever in the

tournament, and was sent to the very familiar surroundings of

Chapel Hill, N.C. – where it plays each season as part of the ACC

schedule – for an opening-round game against 13th-seeded Sacred

Heart (25-7) on Sunday.

More important for the Yellow Jackets, the first two rounds will

be played on a true neutral court.

In those previous postseason appearances, Joseph’s team was

usually sent to some faraway site in the Midwest, where one of the

other teams had the huge advantage of playing on its home court.

The players knew their chances of advancing beyond the second round

were slim before they even got on the plane.

”It’s a big motivation,” said senior guard Metra Walthour.

”This is the first time since I’ve been here that we’ve played on

a neutral court, in a region that’s close to us. We got what we

wanted. Now, we want to go out and show we can handle it and do

something this program has never done before.”

Joseph feels good about the makeup of her team.

There are five seniors to provide leadership. One of those is

Walthour, who has started 66 straight games at point guard. Another

is 6-foot-5 Sasha Goodlett, who gives the Yellow Jackets a strong

presence on the inside.

”As long as you’ve got a point guard and a center who’ve played

as many minutes as they have,” Joseph said, ”you have a chance to

be good.”

Then there’s sophomore guard Tyaunna Marshall, who wasn’t

heavily recruited out of high school. She wound up at Georgia Tech

after Joseph spotted her while scouting another player. At first,

the coach was impressive by Marshall’s high motor on defense,

figuring she would fit well in the team’s trademark pressing


Joseph had no idea Marshall would turn out to be quite the

scorer, too.

She’s been in double figures in all but five games, scored more

than 20 points in three straight contests at the ACC tournament and

heads into the NCAAs as the team’s top offensive threat (15.3

points a game).

”Everybody is playing on the same page, Marshall said. ”We

have one common goal, one focus. We have our eyes on the prize and

we’re not going to let anything distract us.”

Indeed, Georgia Tech has already gone through a unique

experience that might prove especially beneficial in the


With the campus arena undergoing a massive renovation, the

Yellow Jackets essentially played their entire schedule on the

road. Even the so-called home games were held about 25 miles away

from campus at an arena in the sprawling Atlanta suburbs. Because

of the city’s notorious traffic, the team booked a hotel before

each game, just to make sure they didn’t show up late.

All that time spent on buses and in hotels helped the team


When the Jackets actually went on the road, it didn’t seem so

imposing. They were 10-2 in away games and 4-3 at neutral


”We took a negative and turned it into a positive,” Joseph

said. ”It really helped this program learn how to win on the road.

The fact that every single game was like a road game, that we

stayed in a hotel for every single game … I think that really

made us more road-tested and gave us more confidence on the road.

It doesn’t matter where we play. We haven’t played at home all


Now, it’s time to win two games in Chapel Hill.

”For us to have success in this program, for us to continue to

grow this program,” Joseph said, ”a Sweet 16 would really put us

on the map.”

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