Winning in Syracuse’s House is NOT Easy
Virginia Tech Hokie Women’s Basketball is ranked #19 by the media, and that’s probably a serious underrating. The Hokies are plainly better than their very early season road troubles have indicated. Two of their 4 losses came against Iowa and LSU under iffy conditions that even the media types who aren’t fanbois of either team or the Reese-Clark Prima Dona rivalry understood those losses. Tech’s other two ACC drops were problematic on the fairness plain, and troubled by that serious injury to Georgia against Duke.
Well, no one with a ballot and a pen much cares about those sorts of troubles, so Tech maintaining its position in the teens was a bit of a relief. The big issue is getting back up far enough to put a dent in the NCAA Tournament seeding game. That means defeating teams on the road and defeating good teams in their houses along with the Cassell.
Sunday, January 28th was a huge test for the Lady Hokies. Not only was Syracuse ahead of Tech in the ACC regular season standings, but it was undefeated at home for a huge stretch during the season at 11-0. That’s not a trivial record to face. The team made the trip to Syracuse with smiles and pictures flashing, but they seriously had to be thinking of the task ahead. Syracuse had some plans for the Hokies, that was plain.
The Game was Afoot in the First Quarter
Syracuse’s game plan looked like, from the opening tip all the way to the end buzzer, take Liz Kitley out. Double team her constantly. Make her uncomfortable. Keep her footwork off kilter and keep her out of the game. That strategy basically worked. We’ll talk about it in the stats section, but Liz will look back at this game with a “lessons learned” sheet on what she wants to work on countering, because all future contests will be studying this game film.
What Syracuse forgot was that when you double up on Kitley to make her life inside miserable, you leave open for Georgia Amoore and her supporting cast. No coach ever wants a healthy Georgia Amoore running rings around their defenses and sinking buckets in barrages from downtown and up underneath. Of course, you can’t do it alone, but G certainly got the ball flying in the 1st.
Syracuse did managed to grab the lead on the opening bucket. There was a worrisome back and forth of big nothings for a bit over a minute as Liz really was struggling to find some elbow and step-back room underneath. As we said, if you do that certain point guards will back off and proceed to deluge you with points from downtown. Georgia opened Tech’s scoring with a trey. That is always a good sign. The Orange would retake a one point advantage on a couple of made free-throws, and then that was it for their association with the lead for the game. Georgia swiped the ball, zipped down the court and laid one in for 2-points, the lead, and a game long relay of working to stay ahead of ‘Cuse.
Tilly Ekh and Cayla King joined the downtown party, and Georgia put one more in from the paint for a grand total of 11 points in the 1st quarter. Liz ended the quarter with a nice bucket that broke her scoring ice, but it wasn’t going to be her game this time. She was going to be consequential as always but doing other things than scoring this time.
The buzzer sounded at the end of the quarter and Tech was up 23-9. We’d have to dig, but was that the first time that Syracuse was held to single digits in the first quarter? I don’t know but given their record, if it wasn’t it was certainly rare.
After 10 at the dome pic.twitter.com/NnG454nR69— Virginia Tech Women's Basketball (@HokiesWBB) January 28, 2024
The 2nd Quarter was a Tough Slog
If a team has a double-digit lead at the end of a period, there can be three reactions; stand on it, hold it, or run into problems and lose it. Unfortunately, in the 2nd, Tech managed to run into problems.
A series of turnovers and misses by the Hokies allowed the first two minutes of the period to go to ‘Cuse nibbling at the lead. Tilly Ekh dropped in a critical three to ablate some of the positive momentum the Orange were producing, but what was obvious is that Liz was just not hitting, and ‘Cuse was chopping away at that lead with lost exchanges. Cayla and Tilly combined to keep the lead going, but it became a nail bitingly tiny 4 points mid-way through the second. It was obvious that Tech was going to be in a knockdown, drag out fight from the 4:45 mark on. The push pull between a 4- and 6-point differential drained down to a meager 2 points with 47 ticks left on the game clock for the half.
The momentum had steadily shifted to the Orange over the course of the quarter, and the Hokies were having serious problems with a lid on the bucket and some foul count problems (2 in the first) for Georgia that had coach Brooks pull her at the 1:23 mark of the 1st.
Tech played the entire 2nd quarter without Georgia on the floor. The big momentum stop came just as time was running out in the half with Carleigh Wenzel laying up a beautiful shot to push the bumper back to 4 points before the half closed. Tech went to the locker room to reform some strategies and figure out how to get the more comfortable lead back at 36-32.
At the half pic.twitter.com/5wM3hk8kAv— Virginia Tech Women's Basketball (@HokiesWBB) January 28, 2024
The Third Quarter was Just Plain Weird
The weirdness of the period started with the first three minutes being completely scoreless for both teams. Tech couldn’t find the basket, and neither could ‘Cuse, until at about the 7-minute mark, Syracuse generated a three-point play on a foul supposedly by Liv Summiel, and Tech’s shaky lead evaporated down to a potential single shot from the charity stripe; one point.
That’s when Tilly checked back into the scoring routine by dropping in a shot from downtown that pushed the lead back to a +4 for Tech. The exchange flipped in Tech’s favor on a missed shot by Syracuse and a defensive rebound by Tilly and a good layup by Georgia. Tech put two more points up with another flipped exchange by Olivia Summiel sinking both of her free-throws.
‘Cuse would nibble back at that lead with some unfortunate fouls called on Liz. She ultimately ended up with three called on her for what looked like daring to commit defense. This meant that Coach Brooks had to pull her twice during the quarter to maintain her floor eligibility for the critical 4th quarter. Remember that even though she was having difficulties scoring, she was rebounding, and more importantly blocking shots and sucking up double-teams.
Not having Liz on the floor means a huge game adjustment and a pile of responsibility for the player, usually Clara Strack, taking her place. The team rallied up and kept Syracuse at a short arm’s length for the entire remainder of the quarter. The door on the 3rd slammed shut with a short jumper by Georgia and a return to a respectable 8-point buffer; 55-47.
The Whole Game in the 4th Quarter
Like a certain great comedian would say. “I told you all that, to tell you this...” The Syracuse-Virginia Tech Women’s Basketball Game came down to the final 10-minutes of the contest. When the opening buzzer sounded, there was no reason to believe that the Hokies were going to coast to a win. Nor was it, at 11-0 at home, that anyone could argue that Syracuse was out of the game. Eight points is 2 trey’s and a bucket from the paint away from a tie. All it would take is a few fumbled Tech possessions to flip enough scoring opportunities for the Orange to be right back in this contest.
Their opening bid for one of those three pointers boinged off the rim and into Tilly Ekh’s arms and into the basket by Liz Kitley who, in the final quarter was back in the game foul trouble or not. That 10-point difference would end up being the significant stretch of the game. Even though ‘Cuse cut that lead in half as three minutes of the quarter drained away, Tech just came out and stretched it back out again.
Things bounced between 5 and 8 points for most of the middle third of the quarter. Liz would push the lead back out to 10 points on an exchange flip and a layup. She would later miss a double-digit effort by two, very rare, consecutive misses from the charity stripe, but Syracuse just could not account for her presence without checking in to double team her leaving the rest of the team shorthanded.
The final 8 points, interestingly enough just like the first 8, were scored by Georgia Amoore, with a 2-point jumper and six free-throws as Syracuse fouled to try to gain some advantage, or out of frustration. It’s never a very wise thing to foul Georgia Amoore when she gets to take a trip to the charity stripe on the infraction. Amoore was perfect this time.
Fittingly, the final two points were G’s and the Tech lead pushed to 13. With tiny time left on the clock there was nowhere for Syracuse to hide. The Lady Hokies took the game in an impressive high level road win for both the NCAA Tournament positioning, and the ACC tournament seeding.
Another dub at the dome pic.twitter.com/zJXuWIivgW— Virginia Tech Women's Basketball (@HokiesWBB) January 28, 2024
It’s a bit strange to not have Liz Kitley on the scoring mention list. Sometimes it’s just a down game, that a great player understand that the role has change for this one game, and it’s time to step up to do the things that help the team win. That’s every player on this team that I have seen or commented on, but especially the tall young lady in the middle and her running partner our nearly impossible to stop point guard.
Speaking of nearly impossible to stop point guards, G was a completely separate force of nature, today. With her scoring buddy smothered by close coverage and foul problems, Georgia -who was also on the bench for a few too many whistles blown in her direction- Opened the game with significant scoring (all of it) and closed it out with all of the points, too. When you look at the totals that number comes up to 29 and that included 3 of 9 from downtown.
Yeah G— Virginia Tech Women's Basketball (@HokiesWBB) January 28, 2024
She's got all 8 of our points to start
» ACCN pic.twitter.com/rY57G92BUs
Of course, that also meant that G was putting it up from inside a significant number of times and a perfect six from the charity stripe certainly was a good thing. Georgia also added 3 assists on offense, and contributed 4 defensive rebounds, and a steal on defense. Her foul troubles stopped in the 2nd half, and she received no more whistles from the zebras after she retook the floor in the 3rd.
Humm, here is that name again. Sort of pushing her way into significant numbers under the radar. Tilly just plays excellent team ball, and you just don’t see her out there attracting attention. She plays solid defense, and unselfish offense. Today she was being just a bit selfish, however, and being deadly from downtown at just the right moments. Tilly put in 14 points (4 of 7 from downtown), and every single one of those buckets was important. She pulled down 4 boards and grabbed a steal on defense.
Tilly— Virginia Tech Women's Basketball (@HokiesWBB) January 28, 2024
Her second triple extends the lead pic.twitter.com/QxVCBVCTzD
We haven’t seen much of Cayla in the scoring summary of the stats section this season. She’s always been a primo defender and doesn’t get a ton of chances to put up shots. With Liz being blanketed, though, it became really important for the Queen of the D to get into shooting mode. Cayla put in 13 points, all but one from three-point range, and also spent her minutes of the game doing her usual thumping tough defensive act. She had 2 offensive boards, 2 defensive boards, and a steal.
Cayla. Clutch.— Virginia Tech Women's Basketball (@HokiesWBB) January 28, 2024
» ACCN pic.twitter.com/VyDNb06GLe
Liz Kitley, Carleigh Wenzel, Olivia Summiel, and Clara Strack
You don’t keep Liz out of the game even if the Refs are giving her a hard time, and you have a chronic double team bumping her around underneath. You see, Liz will get after you in other ways, then. Kitley ended up with 6 points and 2 assists, but that probably would have been a bit better given the circumstances. What she did have was gravity (sucking up an extra player on nearly every play), and she grabbed 9 total boards (3 offensive). Her other defensive numbers got interesting with 2 blocks and 2 steals.
Carleigh played significant time on the court in this game (18 minutes) and put up some key buckets. She took a grand total of three shots, made 2, and was 2 of 2 from the free-throw line. She also pushed out four assists and on defense she grabbed 4 boards, and a steal. It was her basket that closed the 1st half, and changed the momentum of the game in favor of the Hokies.
Big bucket by 1️⃣ as we head into the locker room pic.twitter.com/mqGsD56OZU— Virginia Tech Women's Basketball (@HokiesWBB) January 28, 2024
Olivia Summiel scored five points, but she only took four shots (all from downtown) She hit on one of those and was 2 of 2 from the charity stripe. That’s not a fair assessment of her significant contribution on the floor, however. Liv led the team in rebounds with 12, thee of which were offensive that allowed for putbacks. She also pushed out an assist.
Clara came in to sub for Liz during some dicey minutes of the game. She took a grand total of three shots and made one. What the true freshman did do, was pull down 6 rebounds (2 ORB, 4 DRB) push out an assist, and block 2 shots. Maybe we should start calling her Clara “NoNo” Strack? Next year she’s going to step up to full time and be great, especially with the experience of this season behind her.
This was A WIN and Somebody Better Pay Some Attention to It
We’ll see how Monday’s poll fares but frankly, Hokie Nation doesn’t need that affirmation. We know how good this team is, and how much better it is getting with every tough game. The next big one is going to be at 6pm on Thursday February 1st. It’s at home and the Lady Hoos are coming down to play in our house.