Women’s basketball honors graduating seniors

Pictured above, sophomore forward Ines Noguero drives to the rim against graduate student guard Kiki Jefferson. // Photo courtesy of Knox Lingenfelter Student Publications

After a valiant effort against No. 6 NC State where sophomore guard Kara Dunn’s last-second three was not enough to salvage a one-point heartbreaking loss in overtime, the female Jackets looked like they could put a satisfying exclamation on the season against their next two opponents, No. 20 Louisville and the Wake Forest Demon Deacons. Despite the 14-spot difference in ranking, Louisville still posed a formidable challenge for the Jackets. 

The Cardinals rank fifth in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) in points per game at 74.9 points per game while holding opponents to a respectable 62.8 points per game. They also boast the conference’s third-best turnover margin, indicating that Tech would need to force them into mistakes.

By halftime, it looked like the game was already over. After taking the lead at the seven-minute mark in the first quarter, the Cardinals never relinquished it for the rest of the half. The Jackets also had seven turnovers in a rather disjointed first quarter. Dunn scored the first points of the quarter off the dish from junior forward Kayla Blackshear, but the Tech defense could not stop graduate student Sydney Taylor from hitting two threes in quick succession to put the Cardinals up, 8-4. The Cardinals then ballooned the score to a 19-9 lead, but sophomore guard Tonie Morgan and freshman guard Rusne Augustinaite both sank jumpers with a minute remaining to make it 21-13. The second quarter started off better — Morgan scored all six points to open the second quarter. Blackshear poked the ball away from Louisville senior forward Olivia Cochran, and it started to look like Tech was going to mount a come-back as the deficit shrunk to six. However, Cardinals freshman forward Elif Istanbullogu responded with a momentum-quenching three. From there, the Cardinals maintained their double-digit lead and took a 43-28 lead into halftime. Morgan’s 14 first-half points helped the Jackets stay in the game, but Tech needed more from its offense. The bench only produced five points in the first half to Louisville’s 32. 

They found the spark they needed early in the second half. Fifth-year guard Sydney Johnson found sophomore guard Ines Noguero for the three-pointer to open the half, which ignited an 8-2 Tech run. Unfortunately, the Louisville offense went on a 8-2 run of their own to extend the lead to 17. Tech could not connect on its three-pointers in order to keep up and a three from Cardinals junior guard Jayda Curry ended the 3rd quarter with a Louisville lead of 63-40. 

Now needing a massive fourth quarter, Tech opened the quarter on another 8-2 run to cut the lead to 15. They did an excellent job of hustling for second-chance point — namely Dunn and fifth-year forward Aixa Wone Aranaz had a sequence early in the quarter where both kept the possession alive — their persistence paid off after Dunn connected on the layup. 

Dunn’s increased rim pressure culminated in three straight free throws before Blackshear connected on two layups of her own to shrink the Tech deficit to 13. However, Louisville forced Tech’s defense to foul and sank four straight free throws to get the lead back up to sixteen with three minutes left. With the game firmly in hand, the Cardinals coasted to a comfortable 80-62 win. Tech had no answer for Taylor, who outscored the Cardinals’ starting lineup with 31 points off the bench. 

In their last home game of the season, the Jackets hoped to put the sting of their defeat behind them and send the graduating seniors out in style for their final appearance at McCamish. Their opponent, the Wake Forest Demon Deacons, provided an excellent opportunity to rebound. The Demon Deacons have scored the fewest points per game in the ACC at 59.7, shoot the conference’s worst field goal percentage at 38.8% and also average the conference’s fewest rebounds per game at 30.3. However, the underdog visitors looked rather comfortable in the first quarter. 

The Jackets looked off from three-point range, missing eight of their nine deep attempts and only hit 28.6% of their attempts from the field. Noguero forced an early turnover by stripping the ball from Wake Forest forward Malaya Cowles and pulled down multiple timely defensive rebounds. 

However, Tech’s offensive woes carried over into this contest and extended into the second quarter. Although Dunn hit a three to cut the lead to two early in the quarter, shots from beyond the arc continued to fall short and the offense stagnated. Wake Forest held a 15-point lead with 2:40 left in the half, largely due to the efforts of junior guard Elise Williams, who scored ten points in the second quarter. Still, when the buzzer sounded for halftime, the Jackets were only down by ten at 33-23. Augustinaite hit a three to break a nearly seven-minute stretch without a made Tech three-pointer. If the first half was listless, the Jackets found renewed purpose in the third quarter. They scored 23 points to Wake Forest’s 12 and opened the half on a 7-2 run. Morgan pushed the team’s pace, turning steals into fastbreaks that she either got fouled on or converted into a made basket. After Noguero sunk a pair of free throws, Blackshear then converted a tough layup through two defenders before Johnson netted a three-pointer to make it a manageable three-point deficit, 39-36. 

Morgan then swished the jumper on the rebound from Noguero to make it a one-point game that Dunn tied up on free throws. Wake Forest answered back with a jumper of their own to make it 41-39 before Augustinaite hit the biggest three-pointer of the game to give the Jackets their first lead since the early first quarter. Tech then hung on to close out the quarter with a slim lead, 46-45.

The fourth quarter was a tale of two parts – an excellent beginning and disappointing ending. After big moments in the third, Augustinaite and Dunn continued to stay hot from the field. However, the game changed between the six and three minute mark. Tech could not string any sort of offensive consistency to take the lead and fell after Williams iced the game on free throws. 

In spite of the losses, the Jackets’ graduating players deserved to be recognized as program leaders. Johnson, senior guard Avyonce Carter, Aranaz and fifth-year guard Caitlyn Wilson left it all on the floor in their final appearance at McCamish. They will play against Miami on Sunday, Mar. 3  before heading to Greensboro, NC for the ACC Tournament.