Women’s basketball falls in ACC quarterfinals

Senior Digna Strautmane puts up a shot in Greensboro during Tech’s ACC tournament run. Tech fell in the quarterfinals, but await a call on Selection Sunday as one of the NCAA Tournament’s at-large teams. // Photo courtesy of Brian Savage

The Tech women’s basketball team earned the sixth seed in last week’s ACC Tournament in Greensboro, N.C. after beating Wake Forest on the road in their season finale. Tech’s seeding earned them a bye through the first round, and the team wound up playing the Demon Deacons on March 3 for the second straight game after beating Virginia in their first round game.

That second round game was far more of a slugfest than either team would have liked, and also a game marred by minutes off the floor by both the Jackets’ and Deacons’ notable players. After Tech took a first quarter lead, fifth-year Lorela Cubaj got tripped after going for a defensive rebound, falling face first and slamming her chin on the floor. She did not play the rest of the game, and required stitches to close the laceration.

The second and third quarters were about as weak an offensive showing as the Jackets have had all year. The second quarter was the second time in a month they scored only four points, coming from fifth-year Digna Strautmane and junior Nerea Hermosa. Tech had seven turnovers by halftime. The third was a little better with senior Sarah Bates hitting a three and junior Aixa Wone Aranaz filling in productively for Cubaj, scoring two buckets. Between the two quarters, Tech scored 13 points and got heavily outrebounded without Cubaj.

“She’s so important [on] both ends of the floor that it changed the game,” senior guard Lotta-Maj Lahtinen had to say of Cubaj’s absence when talking with the Technique after the game.

Even with the rebounding disadvantage, Wake Forest was having an even worse offensive evening, never getting the lead. Notably, their best player, Jewel Spear, was having ankle issues and was off the floor for a fair amount of the middle of the game. The Deacons did tie the game at 31 early in the fourth quarter on a Malaya Cowles three point play courtesy of a defensive miscommunication between Hermosa and Lahtinen. Spear then tied it again at 34 with her only three-pointer of the game.

Lahtinen hit a critical three with a minute left to give Tech a four point lead. Wake began fouling, but still was in it as Tech only made 2-of-8 free throws within the final minute, finishing with a 39% free throw shooting percentage. Tech stayed on top at the final buzzer, 45–40. It was the second-fewest total points ever scored in any ACC Tournament game.

The win earned them a spot in the quarterfinals the following evening against Notre Dame, who Tech fell to earlier in the year at McCamish in overtime. Cubaj was back in the starting lineup, but in a 71–53 loss would post a -18 in plus/minus.

Tech had a lead in the second quarter after Bates hit a three pointer, but was quickly countered by Notre Dame star Olivia Miles, whose three to put the Irish up five was part of a 10–4 run that effectively put Tech away for the rest of the game.

Strautmane, who statistically was the most efficient Jacket in the second round matchup, had to sit early in the second half with three fouls, but had the second made attempt in a 2–13 FG stretch that brought them to the fourth quarter.

Tech was down 54–43 going into the fourth quarter, which was not an impossible lead to come back from, and had already come back down 10 earlier in the season against Notre Dame. Offensively though, Tech was generating very little inside the arc, having made nine threes by the fourth, but only six shots from two. Hermosa and Cubaj were the only Jackets to make any field goals in the fourth quarter. Tech finished with nine two-point and three-point makes for the game.

Tech’s nine triples did add up to a 50% 3-point percentage. Strautmane had two threes with her 12 point performance, leading the Jackets in that category. Irish guard Sonia Citron was a +20 in plus/minus. Miles shot 50% FG with a 34% usage rate. The advanced offensive analytics showed Lahtinen’s struggles, as she recorded a 53.8 offensive rating.

The loss put Tech at a 21–11 record for the season. The Jackets are awaiting Selection Sunday to see where they get slotted into the NCAA Tournament. ESPN projections have them as a seven seed. The ACC is projected to have eight teams qualify for the tournament, second behind the SEC. The Jackets fell out of the AP Rankings after the week, receiving only nine votes after spending most of the season ranked.