SALINA, Kan. -- As coach Brandon Harrell's South Georgia Tech Lady Jets prepare for today's first-round game against 2008 national champ and second-ranked Gulf Coast Community College in the NJCAA tourney, he reminds them of one thing:
Defense helped earn the Lady Jets their first region title and district championship, and it will determine how far they go in their first appearance on this kind of stage. They were ranked first in defense for most of the season and are second going into the Gulf Coast game.
"We've had to win defensively all season," Harrell said. "I do think that's one of the big reasons we're here. Now that we're here, we can't forget how we got here."
Today's key to victory will likely hinge on how well the Lady Jets contain the Commodores' Andrea Smith, who is the Panhandle Conference's Player of the Year. One particular player guarding Smith may not be enough.
"The way we defend at times, we don't necessarily look for specific matchups," Harrell said.
At tip-off, however, South Georgia likely will put guard Zsoka Ruttner on her and depend on outside help if Gulf Coast takes advantage on transition opportunities.
"(Ruttner) is 6-foot-1 and she is able to alter shots and can make it tough for (Smith) to shoot the ball," Harrell said. "But Andrea will be a tough matchup for all our guards to defend."
South Georgia Tech, coincidentally, will start four guards today, including former Americus-Sumter star Deatric Smith who also was the NJCAA Region XVII Player of the Year.
Inside the paint, however, Lady Jets post player Reka Ruttner (Zsoka's sister) will likely need quick help if Gulf Coast establishes itself under the basket due to a size advantage.
"They have, what I consider, three really good post players," Harrell said. "We're not that big and not that deep at that position. So that's going to be interesting to see if we can defend them down there. If we're able to defend them down there, we'll have a chance."
That's because Harrell said he feels comfortable with his team's defense along the perimeter.
"I think our guard play matches up well," Harrell said. "Are we going to be back on our heels and let them get by us on transition? If we do, we're going to have a very long day. If we play hard and never quit? I think we'll be OK."