March 18, 2009
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by David Meyer
IOWA CITY, Iowa — The last time Georgia Tech and the University of Iowa met in women’s basketball was in the 2007 ACC/Big Ten Challenge. The Yellow Jackets’ tenacious defense forced 26 Hawkeye turnovers, keying the way to a 76-57 victory.
Georgia Tech’s 40-minute press is something its program has hung its hat on under sixth-year head coach MaChelle Joseph. It’s something the Hawkeyes will need to be ready for when the teams face off in the opening round of the NCAA tournament at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Sunday, March 22, at approximately 8:30 p.m.
“We haven’t seen a lot of that (pressure) in the Big Ten, so that’s something we’re going to really have to prepare for in the next couple of days,” said UI head coach Lisa Bluder at a media conference Wednesday in the Carver-Hawkeye Arena press room.
Georgia Tech likes to mix its trademark press with a variety of looks. The Yellow Jackets run full-court zone, full-court player and 3/4-court zone presses. For the second consecutive year, the Yellow Jackets led the nation in steals.
Georgia Tech’s roster is full of fast, athletic players who fit its defensive scheme. Senior guard Jacqua Williams is a perfect example. She was named to the ACC All-Defensive team by leading the ACC in steals and is also a sprinter on the Georgia Tech track and Ffeld team.
“I think MaChelle Joseph has done a great job of taking some tremendous athletes and really highlighting their skills,” said Bluder.
Bluder feels confident in her team’s ability once it gets into the quarter-court offense…but getting there will be the hard part. Georgia Tech feeds off of pressuring the ball.
“That’s where they get their adrenaline from, is creating those types of steals. It’s something that we have to be very careful about,” said Bluder.
“We haven’t seen a lot of that (pressure) in the Big Ten, so that’s something we’re going to really have to prepare for in the next couple of days.”
UI head coach Lisa Bluder
Bluder emphasized the importance of teamwork when bringing the ball up the court. To advance the ball past half-court, the Hawkeyes will have to rely on more than their senior point guard, Kristi Smith.
“We can’t say, `Kristi Smith, here’s the ball, have at it.’ I think that’s feeding her to the wolves. We definitely need to bring it up as a team approach,” said Bluder.
Freshman guard Kamille Wahlin will undoubtedly take on a larger amount of ball-handling responsibility than usual when breaking the Georgia tech press. Smith will try to provide her younger teammates with guidance in making quick decisions when facing the press, so they do not get flustered and become hesitant.
“We just have to stay calm. Turnovers are going to happen, so we can’t hang our heads when they do. We just have to take care of the ball and work together as a team,” said Smith.
While guards typically bring the ball up the court, Iowa will have to get players in the frontcourt involved as well when advancing the ball against Georgia Tech. Just as the Yellow Jackets differentiate their play calling, so will the Hawkeyes.
“They do look to deny and trap right away when we inbound the ball, but we’ve worked on having [center Megan] Skouby break to the middle and stuff like that, so we’ve got a lot of options,” said senior forward Wendy Ausdemore.
The Hawkeyes tried to replicate Georgia Tech’s press in practice on Tuesday, but it is hard to execute as well as the Yellow Jackets without their personnel.
“It’s a tough thing to emulate when you don’t have that type of speed or that type of athleticism on your team, so we tried to use seven players out there to try to emulate what they can do with five,” said Bluder.
While Georgia Tech’s vaunted defense may seem intimidating, Smith looks at it as a challenge that Iowa is fully capable of dealing with.
“They’re a great team and that’s one of their strong points. We have good ball-handlers on this team, so it should be a good match up,” said Smith.
The Yellow Jackets thrive off of the press against most opposition, but the Hawkeyes play smart basketball. Iowa led the Big Ten in assist-to-turnover ratio. Bluder knows Georgia Tech’s press is an obstacle that her team can overcome.
“There’s no doubt that their full-court press is something that they really live and die off of. Attacking that press is going to be very, very crucial to our success.”