The Nell Fortner age at Georgia Tech has actually left to a strong start, with the Yellow Jackets reaching the Sweet Sixteen in the 2021 NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Tournament and returning the bulk of their lineup for the 2021-22 season.
Adversity has actually struck the program, nevertheless. Promising sophomore guard Loyal McQueen moved to Alabama simply 3 video games into the routine season, and her backcourt partner, senior Kierra Fletcher, hasn’t dipped into all after going through surgical treatment on her foot. It’s seriously hindered the Yellow Jackets’ depth, with Fortner presenting simply a six-player rotation in numerous video games so far.
It’s circumstances like these when programs should lean on their stars, and fortunately for Georgia Tech, it has one in Lorela Cubaj.
Cubaj, a 6-foot-4 forward from Terni, Italy, chose to utilize her additional year of eligibility (approved by the NCAA due to the COVID-19 pandemic) to go back to Georgia Tech for a 5th season, regardless of her excellent senior season in 2020-21 making her WNBA Draft factor to consider.
Fortunately for the Yellow Jackets (14-4; 5-2 ACC), Cubaj has actually gotten back at much better ever since, and her experience and varied ability have actually been critical in her group preserving its winning identity while making the needed changes through its lineup turmoil. Georgia Tech is presently ranked No. 18 in the nation in the Associated Press ladies’s basketball survey. As the ACC routine season continues, let’s take a look at how Cubaj has actually assisted keep the Yellow Jackets afloat and what it implies for her as a future WNBA draftee.
Honors and stats
The No. 2 global possibility in the class of 2017 according to ProspectsNation.com, Cubaj has actually progressively enhanced throughout her college profession. As is common for gamers who aren’t offending focal points, it took a while for Cubaj to be acknowledged nationally, however the honors started gathering throughout her junior season: She was called Co-Defensive Player of the Year, sharing the award with Syracuse center Kamilla Cardoso, after balancing 11.5 rebounds, 1.3 takes and 1.3 blocks per video game. Cubaj was likewise called an All-American respectable reference in 2021 by the WBCA.
Prior to her senior season, Cubaj was called to the preseason All-ACC Team by the conference’s Blue Ribbon Panel and coaches. She was likewise called to preseason watch lists for the Wooden and Naismith gamer of the year awards, along with the Katrina McClain Award, provided to the nation’s leading power forward.
Internationally, Cubaj has actually been taking on Italy for numerous years. She was on the Italian lineup in FIBA’s U17 and U19 World Championships — she won a silver medal in the previous — and in FIBA’s U16, U18 and U20 European Championships. Most just recently, she took part with Italy in FIBA’s 2021 Women’s EuroBasket competitors, where she balanced 4.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 2.5 helps per video game.
How she assists the Yellow Jackets
Georgia Tech’s absence of ball handlers has actually required the Yellow Jackets to play a brand name of basketball that numerous wouldn’t think about to be visually pleasing. Fortner’s team keeps video game ratings low by dipping into an extremely sluggish speed — just a handful of groups typical less ownerships per 40 minutes, according to Her Hoop Stats — and counting on its defense to do the rest.
It’s a practical method when a group’s finest gamer is such an accomplished protector. Cubaj is the fulcrum of a Georgia Tech defense that presently ranks 2nd in all of Division I in performance, enabling simply 71.5 points per 100 ownerships. She moves extremely well for a gamer of her size, enabling the Yellow Jackets to field a range of protective plans to keep challengers off balance. Cubaj is comfy changing onto boundary gamers and her total level of activity makes her a prospect to snag almost any offered rebound. Her Hoop Stats presently ranks her 3rd in Division I in protective rebounding portion (30.7 percent), a hair up from her No. 11 total rank last season (30 percent).
Cubaj’s effect isn’t unique to the protective end of the flooring, however. A prepared passer with a great feel for the video game, Cubaj has actually seen a sharp uptick in her playmaking this season, no doubt an outcome of the group’s shortage of guards. She’s really Georgia Tech’s leader in helps per video game (4.4) and help portion (32.4 percent), regularly running at the top of the secret to discover cutters or center Nerea Hermosa in high-low action.
Look no even more than Georgia Tech’s early-season upset of then-No. 3 UConn for an example of what Cubaj gives her group. With Cubaj anchoring their defense, the Yellow Jackets held UConn to simply 44 points in the video game, while Cubaj herself packed the stat sheet with 13 rebounds, 7 helps, 2 obstructed shots and 2 takes. It was traditional Cubaj; Fortner credited her “grit” postgame, stating that her star forward “refused to lose.”
The extra playmaking responsibilities for Cubaj might have run out need for Georgia Tech, however her bigger function this season raises some fascinating concerns about her WNBA Draft stock. Compared to most other forwards and focuses in the 2022 Draft class — Michigan’s Naz Hillmon, Baylor’s NaLyssa Smith and Colorado’s Mya Hollingshed are simply a few of the numerous bigs WNBA groups will need to pick from this spring — Cubaj’s video game is rather unconventional because she’s seldom viewed as a go-to scorer for her college group, yet she contributes in essentially every other location. Thus, while it’s not likely that WNBA coaches and GMs will see her as a gamer to develop their groups around, she’ll likewise have the ability to suit nearly anybody’s training school, thanks to her wide range of abilities.
Fortner and Georgia Tech, obviously, are not stressed over that right now. They’ve discovered a method to win in among the hardest conferences in the nation and one can wager that as long as Cubaj is on the flooring for the Yellow Jackets, they’re going to discover a method to contend.
Watch her play
The Yellow Jackets have actually held their own in ACC play so far, however they still have lots of tough matches staying on their schedule. One such match is a Feb. 7 video game in between Georgia Tech and the No. 4 NC State Wolfpack (ESPN). Cubaj and Wolfpack center Elissa Cunane have actually done fight for several years, and with both gamers probably getting in the 2022 WNBA Draft this spring, that specific match will certainly be one to enjoy carefully. Cubaj will then get a fracture at the Virginia Tech Hokies and All-ACC center Elizabeth Kitley on Feb. 10 (RSN) in what guarantees to be another extremely physical fight in the paint.
All stats and group records for the 2021-22 NCAA season are present through Jan. 21, 2022.