Top-ranked defense fuels women’s hoops

Lotta-Maj Lahtinen (31) looks to spur the offense in Tech’s win against UConn this season. The Huskies were ranked third in the country before the Jackets’ stifling defense led the upset. // Photo by Caitlin Aycock Student Publications

The 18th-ranked and top scoring defense Jacket women’s basketball team finished 3-1 in a stretch of four games in eight days against conference opponents, including tight finishes against Florida State at home and Miami on the road. 

The four game run began at home against an overmatched Virginia Cavalier side on Jan. 9, despite only having seven available players for head coach Nell Fortner due to illness with the team. Tech won 67-31, which included a 21-0 scoring run. The Cavaliers were held to single digits in each of the second through fourth quarters. 

 “[I’m] really proud of their effort and how hard they continue to play and fight and listen to their coaches. Today I thought our defense was pretty tough,” Fortner said of the team after the win
over Virginia.

Two days later the Jackets were facing Pitt in what became a closer game but secured their second win of the stretch 63-52 on the road. Tech effectively had the game in hand by the end of the third quarter up 56-28 but allowed 11 straight points to the Panthers in the final quarter. Tech only made two baskets in the
entire fourth.

Again two days later the Jackets were back at McCamish to face Florida State, a game that showed they had the ability to gut out tight, physical wins during games that are not played at their best. Fifth-year Lorela Cubaj led Tech with 24 points in 38 minutes played on 10-for-18 shooting. 

Tech was up at the end of the third quarter despite Florida State scoring 22 points, and the Seminoles even took the lead late in the fourth before sophomore Eylia Love put the Jackets up with a second-chance putback with 48 seconds left. The Seminoles then were forced to start fouling, effectively securing the win for Tech.

Postgame, Cubaj said, “Florida State is a really physical basketball team, so we knew what we were going into.” 

On the fourth quarter, she said, “It was just get a stop pretty much. Nothing crazy.”

“I don’t know if we’ve ever given up 22 in one quarter, so that was disappointing and it hurt us bad,” said coach Fortner after
the game.

While Tech did give up those 22 points in the third that pushed the physicality of the game, the win kept Tech at 4-1 in conference play with only Miami left in the four-game run.

The game at the Watsco Center in Coral Gables became physical just like the Florida State game, but throughout it was clear Tech was running more on fumes, having played just three days earlier. Junior Nerea Hermosa led the team with 12 points on 5-for-12 shooting and six rebounds.

It was a rough shooting game for Tech, only connecting on 28.6% of their shots. They played well defensively, forcing 15 turnovers and 11 steals. This may have been the one game that was severely impacted by the referees, as on multiple occasions both sides had legitimate reason to expect foul calls on drives to the basket,but regularly received none.

Tech held the lead nearly the whole game until the 1:23 mark in the fourth, when Miami scored a layup to go up 46-45. The Jackets had a chance to set up a play with the shot clock off and two timeouts in hand, but Nell let the clock run and was unable to get a quality shot off to win.

After that loss, Tech sits at a 13-4 record, which includes a 4-2 ACC record. As of Jan. 17, Louisville and North Carolina State possess the only undefeated conference records.

Tech currently leads the NCAA in scoring defense by over two points, holding teams to 46.3 points per game. Albany (NY) is currently second at 48.5 points per game.

Hermosa, senior Lotta-Maj Lahtinen, Cubaj, and Love are all averaging over 10 points per game. Cubaj is averaging a double-double with 12.0 rebounds per game, sixth in the nation and tops in the ACC.

The Jackets play at McCamish on January 23 against North Carolina to kick off a two game home stand following a road trip to Syracuse.