Virginia Spurt in Final Minutes Pushes Fourth-Seeded Cavaliers Past Fifth-Seeded Georgia Tech
March 7, 2008
Special to theACC.com
GREENSBORO, N.C. - Debbie Ryan wouldn't have turned down a big lead.
But Virginia's veteran coach didn't mind being locked in an airtight defensive battle with Georgia Tech as Friday's Atlantic Coast Conference Women's Tournament quarterfinal game headed into the stretch run.
"We've been in this position so many times this year," Ryan said. "This has been a team that finishes well. We haven't always won, but this has been a team that understands possession basketball and what they need to do at the end of the game."
The Cavaliers again followed that blueprint, speeding up tempo behind senior point guard Sharnee Zoll and riding the strong inside play of forward Lyndra Littles to pull away for a 52-43 win.
The fourth-seeded Cavaliers outscored the fifth-seeded Yellow Jackets 12-2 in the final four minutes to post their second hard-fought decision over Georgia Tech in less than a week. Virginia edged the Yellow Jackets 103-101 in double overtime in last Sunday's regular-season finale.
Littles scored eight of her 15 points during Friday's decisive stretch, while Zoll delivered a key assist and scored her only basket on a driving layup to give Virginia a 46-43 lead with 2:35 to play.
"Her ability to lead this team has been our one constant," Ryan said of Zoll. "You can't take her mentally out of the game."
Virginia (23-8) advances to Saturday's 1 p.m. semifinal game against the North Carolina-Clemson winner. Georgia Tech (22-9) returns home to await what it hopes will be an at-large bid from the NCAA selection committee.
Monica Wright's 17 points led Virginia's scoring and Aisha Mohammed delivered 12 points and 11 rebounds. Littles pulled down 16 rebounds to key the Cavaliers to a 44-35 edge on the boards.
Georgia Tech got a game-high 19 points from freshman Iasia Hemingway, but leading scorer Janie Mitchell struggled through a 2-of-13 shooting day and Chioma Nnamaka was 3-of-11. The Yellow Jackets shot 32 percent as a team and were 3-of-10 from the foul line.
"I thought our defensive effort was one of the best we've had," said Georgia Tech coach MaChelle Joseph. "But when your two leading scorers go (a combined) 5-of 24 ... that's not effective. There were too many times today when we just couldn't put the ball in the basket."
Virginia's late spurt capped an intriguing second half that saw Georgia Tech overcome a five-point deficit and the Cavaliers scrap back from four points down. There were seven lead changes, the final coming when Littles' layup with 3:59 remaining put the Cavaliers up 42-41.
The game belonged to Virginia from there, and Ryan felt an extra day's rest made just enough difference for her squad. The Cavaliers received a first-round bye on Thursday as the No. 4 seed while Georgia Tech had to face Miami. Joseph, however, didn't feel fatigue came into play.
"Physically, I thought we were fine," she said. "We need to be mentally tougher at times. Mentally, I didn't think we had the focus we needed to have today."
Wright and Hemingway waged a scoring battle of sorts in the first half, with each putting up 11 points for their respective teams. Virginia didn't lead until the 2:39 mark, when Littles followed up Zoll's missed 3-pointer to make it 22-21. Mohammed `s layup off a picture-perfect pass from Abby Robertson in the fading seconds gave the Cavaliers a 24-21 lead at the break.
Georgia Tech failed to score in the final 3:56 of the first half and also ran into slight foul trouble. The Yellow Jackets were whistled for 10 fouls in the first 20 minutes, and guard Jill Ingram picked up her third when she was called for charging with just a shade over five seconds remaining in the first half.
Virginia improved to 20-9 in ACC Tournament quarterfinal games and will be seeking to reach its seventh championship game when it faces the UNC-Clemson winner on Saturday.