March 5, 2009
Box Score | Notes
| Box Score
GREENSBORO, NC – The 12th-seeded Clemson Lady Tigers pulled off the biggest on-paper upset in the ACC Tournament’s 32-year history today when they scored on seven straight second-half possessions en route to an 81-69 victory over No. 5 Georgia Tech.
Freshman center Shaniqua Pauldo, making the first start of her collegiate career, responded with a career-high 23 points to lead the Lady Tigers, who ended a five-game losing streak with the victory. Clemson (14-16) advances to Friday’s 11 a.m. quarterfinal against fourth-seeded North Carolina.
“We felt we underachieved as a team in the last month of the season,” Clemson coach Cristy McKinney said. “We looked at this as a new season.”
Before this morning, teams seeded five or more places higher than their opponents had been 60-4 in tournament history. Included in that were the first three meetings of fifth and 12th seeds. The favorites won those by 65 total points.
The Lady Tigers overcame a stretch of early turnovers to stabilize and ultimately catch and pull away from the Jackets. Tech had reason to believe it could create problems for Clemson with a half-court trap, but the Lady Tigers beat it decisively twice in the critical 15-4, second-half run. The surge turned a 40-39 deficit into a 54-44 lead with 14:31 left.
The Jackets never got closer than seven the rest of the way.
“It was more about composure,” said guard Lele Hardy, who had 10 points and eight rebounds. “We weren’t trying to force things. We were trying to make the easy play, the easy pass and just do what was best for us.”
Hardy, a third-team All-ACC and ACC All-Defensive Team selection, tied the program record with seven steals on Thursday afternoon. The figure was tied for the most in a single ACC Tournament game for a Lady Tiger in history and moved her into second place with 101 steals on the year.
Meanwhile, Pauldo picked an excellent time for the best game of her life. After averaging 3.6 points per regular-season conference game, she asserted herself on the right block and as an aggressive offensive rebounder. Perhaps her most important contribution came with 2:19 left, when she beat the shot clock with a runner in the lane that repelled a brief Jacket comeback bid.
“I knew (McKinney) believed in me,” Pauldo said. “I wanted to be the go-to post player and to help my team win.”
Three other players scored in double-figures to give Clemson five players in all with at least 10 points for the first time since the Lady Tigers’ win over NC State in the first round of the 2008 conference tournament. Senior Tasha Taylor turned in a 12-point, nine-assist performance to resemble the pre-injury player she was in 2006-07.
The news was doubly troubling for Georgia Tech, which lost leading scorer Alex Montgomery for the final two minutes with an apparent knee or ankle injury. Montgomery, a third-team All-ACC player averaging 13.6 points per game, was carried from the floor to the bench by teammates and medical staffers. The extent of the damage could not be immediately ascertained.
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