There wasn’t Much Room to Spare in This One - Every Point Counted
It wasn’t supposed to be this difficult. Wake Forest’s Lady Deacons were 4-9 and having some issues getting any traction, this season, but their star player, Elise Williams and a few supporting players managed to not only make it a game but make it a scary close 3rd quarter that threatened to be a Tech fade.
Road dub ✅ pic.twitter.com/xDizxqeAmy— Virginia Tech Women's Basketball (@HokiesWBB) January 5, 2024
The First Quarter was a Close Struggle and an Indicator
You wouldn’t know it by the first half stats though. But the 1st quarter was more of an indicator of the game’s character than the 2nd. The Hokies barely scraped through the 1st with a pretty furious back and forth with Elise Williams and some help with Alexandria Scruggs. The lid seemed to be on the basket for nearly everyone for the maroon and orange.
The scoring started for Tech with two free throws by Rose Micheaux, and Tilly Ekh sank two threes in a row. They bracketed a layup by Liz Kitley. But Tech’s scoring stalled for nearly three minutes. Meanwhile the Lady Deacs managed to keep putting balls in the bakset and also doing something that Tech is going to have to cure soon. Taking the ball away and forcing turnovers.
Liz was blanket covered, again (no surprises there) but she was also having serious ball control problems. The handle just seemed to keep disappearing during the game. Liz wasn’t the only Hokie having turnover problems and we’ll talk about it in the wrap but suffice it to say when the ball is turned over the point exchange starts bending in the direction of the other folks. It took the Hokies‘ Georgia Amoore to score from downtown (her only points for the quarter) to break back into a positive exchange ratio. Rose Micheaux and Clara Strack would close out the scoring for the 1st, but Wake was hanging around and dangerous to go with it; 19-15.
Out in front after 10 pic.twitter.com/biK9obfo3v— Virginia Tech Women's Basketball (@HokiesWBB) January 4, 2024
The 2nd Quarter Ended Up the Difference in the Game
In every contest you can see, as you look back, where the turning point or critical fulcrum of the game was, and in this one, it was the big run the Hokies managed in the 2nd Quarter. Liz got the scoring rolling, then Carys Baker hit from downtown with another 2-pointer coming from Kitley to stretch the lead to 11 with Wake finding some of its own ball handle problems and a lid on the bucket to go with it. Tech built up a 15-point advantage before the Deacs scored with 6:00 on the clock for the quarter and half.
The lid was still on for them, while the Hokies managed to grab four more with a Kitley free-throw and another Ekh three-pointer. The problem was that, except for a few free throws, the quarter ended with a lid on the basket for Tech, too. Meanwhile Wake was nibbling at the exchange. Worryingly, Georgia hadn’t scored since her trey in the 1st. The half ended with a perceptible momentum shift toward Wake Forest even with the score at 43-26. The 24-11 2nd quarter run proved to be the difference that Tech needed to stay ahead.
Halftime in Winston pic.twitter.com/0sXjnG3wFp— Virginia Tech Women's Basketball (@HokiesWBB) January 4, 2024
The 2nd Half Looked More Like the First Quarter
It’s not that Tech wasn’t scoring in the 3rd, but it was really having difficulty maintaining a consistent offensive pressure and keeping the Lady Deacons from scoring. They kept taking bites out of the point differential and taking advantage of ball handling issues to put themselves on the positive side of the point exchange. At the 2:50 mark of the game, Wake had narrowed Tech’s lead to a mere 4 points. With a couple of good three-point shooters that’s a tenuous position. The big break point came with 2:20 on the clock and Georgia finally draining a shot from downtown to put the Hokies up by 7. Rose Micheaux contributed a free throw, then Georgia followed up a missed 3-point shot with her own rebound and a good three. The Hokies scored their final points of the quarter with a layup by Rose M. but Wake had closed the Tech lead down to 9 as the buzzer sounded on the quarter. They had also managed to top the Hokies in scoring for that period: 29-21.
Headed to the fourth pic.twitter.com/B3apK9BO64— Virginia Tech Women's Basketball (@HokiesWBB) January 5, 2024
The 4th Became a Real Gut Check for the Hokies
When Liz starts the scoring, good things usually happen for Tech. It means that they are pushing in and getting the ball into the post for her to put it up, and Kitley’s opening jumper, followed by a 2 from mid-range from Georgia, kept the Hokies on the plus side of a 6-8 differential exchange. Sometimes they could get it stretched to a 10-8 differential, but each time they tried to pull away, the Deacs would pull right back. The game ended with the typical foul and stop the clock stuff from Wake, but a jumper by Liz, a free throw by Georgia, and then two more from the charity stripe by Liz slammed the door on that game ending 9-point point difference. It was a busy hurried quarter, with both teams racing to keep up. There seemed to be a melting of the defense and an all-out run and gun happen as the Deacs tried to make up ground and the Hokies just tried to stay ahead.
The end came as Tilly Ekh blocked a three-point attempt with 19 seconds on the clock, and Liz grabbed the rebound to keep it out of the hands of the Lady Deacons.
Tense is Probably the Best Description of this One
The critical indicators in this contest were how the Hokies responded to ball handling issues in heavy press situations. Unfortunately, some of the team’s best players had the most turnovers. Liz led in scoring, and rebounds but she also lost the handle on the ball 7 times. She wasn’t the only Tech player with the issues. Tech turned the ball over 17 times in the game, and there is no way that Coach Brooks is going to sit still for that one. The team cannot afford to do that against the #3 NC State Wolf Pack on Sunday. Also, the slow start and problematic shot percentages for key players are going to become issues as the season moves into high gear. This game was probably one of those pivotal moments where the team wins, but realizes that it can lose, too. They call these teaching moments.
Let’s not get too buried in issues and things to work on. This game was a shootout for both squads, and Tech needed its players to step up and contribute not just points, but also rebounds, and defensive plays. Every stop was a chance to stay ahead on the exchange and therefore was critical.
Liz double-doubled early, but needed to, many of her teammates were having problems finding the basket so when that happens it’s really important for her to be strong on the inside and withstand the heavy pressure to get the ball into the bucket. She did have some issues from the charity stripe in this one, missing an uncharacteristic three in a row at one time. But eventually Liz’s consistent inside play and never quit attitude got her 27 points. She was 10-15 from the field which considering her blanket coverage was excellent. She hit 7 from the free throw line. Liz also pulled down 12 rebounds, with 4 being offensive. She also managed 4 critical blocks and a steal. Slowing down Wake on those rallies was so important in this win.
G double-doubled her way with 20 points and 10 assists. It’s not like it was easy and fluid for her in this one. The lid finally came off the bucket when she went inside the arc to start sinking some 2-pointers and getting back into her normal shooting rhythm. Eventually she was 3 of 8 from downtown and put of a solid 8 of 18 total from the floor. She also managed a steal on defense. Her single rebound was actually on her own shot, and she put that back up and drained the 2nd attempt.
G— Virginia Tech Women's Basketball (@HokiesWBB) January 5, 2024
» 53 » 36
» ACCNX pic.twitter.com/Vuzryr0PmW
Rose was only in for 18 minutes but wow did she make every one of those count. She put in 13 points with 7 rebounds, 4 of which were offensive boards. Rose was 5-6 from the floor but unfortunately missed two free throws. Fifteen is a better number than 13, but every one of those 13 counted.
Matilda “Tilly” Ekh
Besides her three three pointers, Ekh played 37 of the 40 minutes in the game and was a bit of everywhere doing everything. She eventually checked in with 11 points on another bucket from 2-point range. She dished out an assist on offense and managed 4 rebounds a block and a steal on defense. It was a solid long term stay on the floor for Tilly and, again every point that she scored, counted.
Cayla King, Carys Baker, Clara Strack, and Olivia Summiel
Cayla scored 6 on 2-3’s, Carys drained another three on her one opportunity to shoot. Clara was 1 for 2 from the field for 2 points, had an assist and two rebounds. Olivia Summiel played 25 minutes, which is significant. She only took two shots from the floor and didn’t manage to get them to hit, but she gabbed 4 rebounds and dished out an assist.
CB: Instant offense— Virginia Tech Women's Basketball (@HokiesWBB) January 4, 2024
» ACCNX pic.twitter.com/8y3ChmQAPt
It was a Learning Experience
This team has not completely found its “character” yet. Every season there is a game that solidifies a team’s personality. The tough wins make you better. Maybe this game will get some steel and fire in there as they prepare to take to the court in the Cassell to play the 3rd ranked Wolf Pack on Sunday. It’s a noon tip off, and we’ll be there cameras firing.