Photo by Mary Ann Chastain
CLEMSON, S.C. -- MaChelle Joseph was glad her Georgia Tech seniors got to enjoy another milestone in her program's rise the past seven seasons.
And the Yellow Jackets coach thinks there could be more special moments ahead this winter.
"Like we talked about the last few weeks, we're either contenders or pretenders and we've got some great opportunities," Joseph said.
No. 21 Georgia Tech reached 20 wins for the fourth straight season with a 68-53 victory over Clemson on Monday night.
Brigitte Ardossi, a senior who's been a key part of the Yellow Jackets' Atlantic Coast Conference rise, had her fifth double-double of the season with 17 points and 13 rebounds.
Now, after a week off, Georgia Tech (20-5, 6-3 ACC) will face two of the teams it must chase down to win a league crown in No. 10 Florida State and No. 8 Duke.
"Our goal is definitely to get to the ACC championship game," Ardossi said. "I know we've talked about it. If we get to that game, we're definitely setting ourselves up for the NCAA tournament."
Particularly, if the Yellow Jackets pressure opponents like they did the Tigers (11-14, 2-7). They forced Clemson into 25 turnovers and held the team to less than 32 percent shooting. Ardossi had four of her team's 16 steals and added two blocks.
Clemson star Lele Hardy, the team's leading scorer, finished with 13 points after missing all four of her shots in the opening half.
"I was pleased with the way we got after it defensively," Joseph said. "Anytime you hold a team to around 50 points on their home floor, you're doing something good."
The Yellow Jackets had only two 20-win seasons in their history before Joseph became coach before the 2003-04. Now, they're just three away from the program record for most victories in a season set in 1978.
Ardossi helped Georgia Tech take control of this one early with eight points during a 20-8 first-half run that put it ahead 27-16.
Clemson could not rally and lost its 44th straight against ranked opponents, a streak that dates to Nov. 2003.
It was Ardossi's fifth game this season with double figure points and rebounds.
Deja Foster scored 16 points for Georgia Tech, Sasha Goodlett had 14 and Alex Montgomery 10.
It's not coincidence that Georgia Tech's successful stretch began with the arrival of Ardossi, a 6-foot-2 forward from Australia.
"She helps them tremendously," Clemson coach Cristy McKinney said. "She's picked it up and become a scorer for them."
Joseph recalls the difficulties of finding skilled players also capable of meeting her school's demanding academic load. "Building this program those first three years, it was rough," she said. "Looking where we've come from and where we are today, it just says a lot about the players who're in this program."
And perhaps where they want to go this season.
Georgia Tech could've gotten trapped peeking past the Tigers -- the Yellow Jackets have won nine of 10 in the series -- to the bigger games next week that could determine their ACC title chances.
Soon enough, though, Georgia Tech found its pressure defense to take control.
Hardy's two foul shots put the Tigers up 8-7 with just more than five minutes gone. That's when the Yellow Jackets went on a 20-8 surge the next 10 minutes to move in front.
Ardossi was a big reason for the run, twice finishing three-point plays for Georgia Tech.
Foster and Ardossi finished the half with 10 points apiece for Georgia Tech, which shot better than 55 percent for the period.
Clemson had few answers against the Yellow Jackets defense, committing 16 turnovers and making just 8 of 29 foul shots.
Hardy, among the ACC's top 10 scorers at No. 8, was 0 of 4 from the field the first 20 minutes. She had seven steals and five of the Tigers 25 turnovers.
Clemson came within nine points in the second half on April Parker's bucket with 7:27 to go.
However, Ardossi responded again with a pair of baskets that extended the Yellow Jackets lead to 58-44.
Parker had 10 points, the only other Clemson player in double figures. The Tigers had their troubles from the outside, ending at 31.7 percent (20-of-63) overall and just 3 of 14 on 3-pointers.
"Making shots has been a challenge for a while, I wish I had an answer," said McKinney, Clemson's fifth year coach. "At some point, it's an accountability thing and (the players) have to take some responsibility for that."