Women’s basketball jumps to No. 14 in AP poll

Senior Lorela Cubaj brings the ball inside against UNC on Jan. 23. Cubaj finished with nine points, ten rebounds, four assists and three blocks despite leaving early with an injury. // Photo courtesy of GTAA

Coming off their fourth loss of the season, the Jackets played in the multi-purpose Carrier Dome for a road matchup against Syracuse. Notably, this was a homecoming game of sorts for fifth year Digna Strautmane, as she transferred from the Orange this year to join the Institute. 

Tech quickly got ahead of the Orange, going up six at the end of the first quarter and getting into the bonus less than halfway into the second quarter. Tech scored ten straight to start that second quarter, going up 31-15 before allowing a bucket.

Tech, in a unique occurrence, was actually up 1-0 before the opening tip-off. Tech was awarded a free throw before the game because of an administrative technical foul on Syracuse. Senior Lotta-Maj Lahtinen made the free throw. The foul was awarded because a light was not working on one of the backboards. 

The third quarter was a different story, with the Orange making it a five point game before head coach Nell Fortner called timeout with 1:37 left in the quarter. Lahtinen got it back to a 10 point lead after scoring Tech’s first three of the evening a couple possessions after the timeout.

Tech was most hampered by turnovers, reaching their season high of 23 by the six minute mark of the fourth quarter. It was not enough of an obstacle for the Jackets, as they quite literally had the lead before the game even started and did not lose it. By the end, they had 26 turnovers but still won 65-55. 

On Jan. 23, North Carolina came to McCamish for Tech’s first ranked-on-ranked matchup since hosting Louisville to kick off 2022. The Tar Heels entered the game scoring 77.8 points per game, a full 30 points more than Tech had allowed all season to that point.

Tech quickly broke away, going up 20 points by the midway point of the second quarter. They comfortably kept the lead at halftime despite not scoring for the last seven minutes in that quarter.

North Carolina brought the lead back to eleven on a Kennedy Todd-Williams jumper and on their following possession drew two fouls from Tech’s defense. Tech’s lead went below ten at the 3:57 mark in the third quarter but quickly went back to ten on a
Cubaj jumper.

Cubaj made two incredible blocks during the quarter, including one on a breakaway by Todd-Williams. Her second came at the end of the quarter that paired with a Lahtinen block and steal to set up a Sarah Bates layup to end the quarter.

That layup was Sarah’s first of three consecutive buckets which stretched Tech’s lead to 19. Lahtinen made a jumper to get Tech to 50 points, which also was her 1,000th point scored at
the Institute.

With just under two minutes left, Cubaj hit the floor hard going for a defensive rebound, favoring her right leg. She had to be assisted walking back to the locker room. In the postgame press conference, Fortner said she was alright.

At the final buzzer, Tech came away with the win 55-38. Todd-Williams was kept to just ten points for the game, the only Tar Heel with double digit points.

Lahtinen and Strautmane both ended in double digits, with 12 and 14 points respectively. Strautmane had a double-double with the team leading 11 rebounds. 

That win propelled the Jackets to No. 14 in the AP Rankings for the week of January 24, putting them in position to host NCAA Tournament games for the first and second rounds. 

On Jan. 25, Cubaj was named to the Naismith Women’s Defensive Player of the Year watch list, which includes 14 other players in the NCAA. She leads the Jackets in rebounds, blocks and steals.