BLACKSBURG, VA. — Virginia Tech women’s basketball continued their hot start to the season on Sunday with an upset victory over No. 16/17 Tennessee inside Cassell Coliseum.
“It was extremely important for us because we’ve asked these kids to sacrifice and buy in, and now they’re starting to see some of the fruits of their labor,” said Head Coach Kenny Brooks.
Chanette Hicks led the way for Virginia Tech on both ends of the floor. Hicks finished with 24 points, eight steals and three assists.
“If (Tennessee) were McDonald’s All-Americans tonight, Chanette was a Five Guys All-American,” Brooks said. “Chanette was the best player on the floor.”
Hicks led a defensive effort that stymied Tennessee all night long. The Volunteers shots just 37 percent from the field and committed 21 turnovers, many of them forced. The Hokies turned those turnovers into 21 points.
“We know our defense gets our offense going,” Hicks said. “If we all just stay together on defense and keep our momentum going, it helps the offense.”
Regan Magarity and Sidney Cook also had big nights for Virginia Tech. Cook registered a double-double, scoring 14 points and grabbing 12 rebounds. Magarity added 16 points on 7-14 shooting.
Tennessee’s stars couldn’t push them over the hump. Mercedes Russell, the Vols 6-foot-6 center, finished with 17 points and 14 rebounds, but struggled to defend the rim vs. Tech. The Hokies outscored Tennessee in the paint 46-34, despite being a much smaller unit.
Diamond DeShields struggled for Tennessee, shooting just 6-16 from the field and committing 10 turnovers.
Virginia Tech played great defense early on and held up well against the taller Tennessee frontline. The Hokies forced a rash of turnovers in the opening minutes and held a 18-10 lead after the first quarter.
Coming into the game, Virginia Tech emphasized being aggressive on defense.
“A lot of people were sitting back and playing zone,” Brooks said. “That’s just not my nature. I’m always a pack line defender, defensive team. I can’t start a game in zone, I just feel like that takes away our aggressiveness.”
The Vols figured things out on both ends of the floor in the second. Tennessee mixed up their defense against Virginia Tech and held the Hokies to just 4-22 shooting in the period and finished the half on a 13-4 run to take 31-28 lead into the break.
Tech’s third quarter ended up being the difference in the game. The Hokies ended the period on a 15-3 run than spanned the final 3:41. Virginia Tech’s defense led to multiple baskets in transition, including six straight points from Magarity.
“I think we ran the floor. From our defense, we would get quick rebounds and get the ball, or Chanette would get a steal and we would get an easy layup,” Cook said.
Tennessee fought their way back into the game early in the fourth quarter. Down 55-44 entering the final period, the Vols went on a 9-0 run to cut the Hokies’ lead to just four with six minutes left. Tennessee would get within one point, but four straight points from Hicks in the final 30 seconds gave Virginia Tech all the cushion they needed.
The win puts Virginia Tech at 6-0 to start the season. It’s the programs first 6-0 start since 2005, when the Hokies started 12-0 and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. It’s also Virginia Tech’s second win over Tennessee in two seasons. The Hokies upset the No. 8 Vols 57-43 last season in Knoxville.
“I’d say that they shouldn’t have voted us 12th in the ACC,” Cook said. “I think Coach Brooks has just given us confidence individually and we realize that we shouldn’t be ranked 12th,” Cook said. “We feel like as we keep playing we’ll be an NCAA-caliber team.”
“One of the things I kept telling them throughout the game was that they were better,” Brooks said. “I think that’s part of the psyche… you have to believe in yourself before you can go out there and accomplish things.”
The Hokies will play their next four games at home before a road trip to Auburn. Virginia Tech plays Nebraska on Thursday, Dec. 1 at 7 p.m. in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.