Lotta-Maj Lahtinen scored 22 points, Lorela Cubaj had 21 points and 12 rebounds, and No. 5 seed Georgia Tech used a big third quarter to beat No. 4 West Virginia 73-56 in the second round of the women’s NCAA Tournament
SAN ANTONIO — Georgia Tech needed no big rally to ramble into the Sweet 16.
A missing shooter’s touch found and big contributions from their European duo of Lotta-Maj Lahtinen and Lorela Cubaj carried the fifth-seeded Yellow Jackets to a 73-56 win over No. 4 West Virginia on Tuesday, sending Georgia Tech to the Sweet 16 for the second time.
Lahtinen, of Finland, struggled to find her stroke in a first-round overtime win over Stephen F. Austin when the Yellow Jackets needed a 17-point second-half rally, the fourth largest comeback in tournament history. She was 0 for 7 from long range in that game.
But Lahtinen struck for 17 points in the first half against the Mountaineers to dig the Yellow Jackets out an early hole. She was 9-of-16 shooting against West Virginia with three 3-pointers.
“Shooters gotta shoot, man,” Lahtinen said. “I just tried to be confident with it.”
Her stroke and Cubaj’s muscle and rangy defense had Georgia Tech up by 17 after three quarters. Cubaj, of Italy, finished with 21 points and 12 rebounds.
“I knew our effort and our execution would be better than it was in the first round,” Georgia Tech coach Nell Fortner said.
The Yellow Jackets’ only other Sweet 16 appearance came in 2012. Georgia Tech (17-8) will meet Tuesday night’s winner between No. 1 South Carolina and No. 8 Oregon State in the Hemisfair Region.
Esmery Martinez scored 13 points to lead West Virginia (22-7).
Georgia Tech turned the ball over eight times in the first quarter — four in the first five possessions — and trailed 15-6 before clawing back within 17-15 when Cubaj snatched an air ball and flipped it backward for a layup at the buzzer.
The Yellow Jackets cleaned up the sloppy play in the second and Lahtinen got rolling. She scored 10 of Georgia Tech’s final 14 points of the quarter, including two 3-pointers, to help build a 36-32 halftime lead.
Lahtinen and Cubaj then scored all nine of Georgia Tech’s points in a 9-4 run to over the final four minutes of the third that broke the game open.
West Virginia coach Mike Carey has led the Mountaineers to 11 NCAA Tournaments, but has never made the Sweet 16.
“When we did get them to take a tough shot, they got an offensive rebound and it was a reset. We didn’t close out on the shooter and let them have a shot,” Carey said. “I seen this coming, I really did. We tried to correct it, we just didn’t get it corrected.”
Cubaj, the ACC’s co-defensive player of the year, anchored a Georgia Tech defense that smothered West Virginia’s Kysre Gondrezick, who scored three points and took just six shots after scoring 26 in the first-round win over Lehigh.
The Yellow Jackets also won the rebound battle 36-22 and allowed the Mountaineers only six offensive boards to stifle any second-chance points.
“I’m just obviously so proud of their effort today. I thought defensively we were just locked in,” Fortner said.
Fortner’s day started with a tweet ripping the NCAA for the disparities between the men’s and women’s tournaments. By late afternoon, her Yellow Jackets had produced one of the biggest wins in school history.
Afterward, Fortner sounded like she’d keep pressing the NCAA on issues she raised over what she called inadequate facilities, coronavirus testing and marketing of the women’s game.
“We’re on a stage, or we have a platform right now to talk about some things,” Fortner said. “Look, the inequities have been around for a long time. Everyone here, just about every coach, has had an opinion on it, and put out a statement, and I just put out what I felt.”
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