It isn’t the NCAA Tournament, but Virginia Tech women’s basketball is embracing a “championship mindset” during their WNIT run. On Sunday, the Hokies (22-13) moved one step closer to achieving the ultimate goal, knocking off Alabama in the quarterfinals of the WNIT 74-67.
“Very pleased with our effort, very happy for the kids,” said head coach Kenny Brooks. “It was a great win for us, to continue on to play. The crowd was tremendous and everything that you want to get out of the WNIT experience — we’re doing so. We’re winning basketball games, I think we’re creating a buzz with our fanbase, but probably most important — our kids are getting better.”
Virginia Tech used a balanced offensive attack, with four Hokies scoring in double digits. Taylor Emery led all players with 19 points on 7-of-12 shooting, while both Aisha Sheppard and Rachel Camp scored 17 points. Regan Magarity registered a double-double, scoring 12 points and grabbing 10 rebounds.
“I think our focus has been to play together,” Magarity said. “In these past couple of games, we kind of found each other more. I think when everybody is able to score and we have that balance, we’re really good because everyone is a threat.”
As good as the offense was, Brooks was pleased with his defense even more. Alabama finished the day shooting 35.8 percent from floor, making 4-of-16 from behind the arc. The Hokies defense flashed in the third quarter, allowing the Crimson Tide to score just 10 points in the period. Virginia Tech scored 20 points in the third quarter, shooting 9-of-14 from the field.
“I was very proud of our defense,” Brooks said. “I thought we did a really good job of paying attention to the scout, understanding who was who. We were in the right position a lot tonight, probably more so than I think I’ve ever seen us. We were just really on the same page.”
“We really just came out with a lot of energy,” Taylor Emery said. “Obviously, we have goals to win the championship. We came out in the third quarter and had to focus on shutting down certain people and really just playing team defense. Our defense led to our offense, and that’s what we did.”
Virginia Tech now moves on to the semifinals of the WNIT, where they will travel to Morgantown to take on West Virginia on Wed., March 28 at 7 p.m. The Mountaineers are 25-11 this season — 8-10 vs. the Big 12 — and defeated Virginia Tech 79-61 at the Paradise Jam in Florida on Nov. 25, 2017. So far, West Virginia has defeated Bucknell, Saint Joseph’s, James Madison and St. John’s in the WNIT.
No matter the result of Wednesday night’s game vs. West Virginia, the feeling that the Virginia Tech women’s basketball program is on the verge of breaking out seems real. Brooks, who made multiple runs in the WNIT at James Madison, feels something similar happening in Blacksburg.
“From those experiences, we grew up as a basketball team,” Brooks said. “It really helped our program in the short term, but also in the long term. Like last year, we made a deep run and it was good for our program in the sense that it put us on the map, but it wasn’t as great for the players because three of the ones that played that contributed so much were seniors. This year, the run is even better because these kids, all of them are coming back.”
Virginia Tech’s rotation is already down to seven players, and one of those players is dealing with a lingering injury. Kendyl Brooks, who’s started 24 games this season, has been dealing with a hip injury since January. Kenny Brooks told the media of his daughter’s injury after Sunday’s game, and said that it’s been dragging her down. Brooks has come off the bench in every game since Feb.27, but hasn’t made a field goal since Feb. 11 vs. Virginia.
“She’s hurting a little bit right now. She really is, to the point where she’s going to have to be shut down soon,” Kenny Brooks said. “If I had one more guard, she probably wouldn’t be playing. The fact that she’s out there, I’m very, very proud of her. I think it’s gotten to the point where her shot is — it doesn’t feel natural because she’s trying to overcome an injury. I think now, since she’s missed a few in a row, she’s shooting not to miss instead of shooting to make.”