Virginia Tech Women’s Basketball Grinds Out Gritty Win Against Pitt

The Hokies and Kenny Brooks were challenged down the stretch, but held on. (Virginia Tech sports photography)

After Dayshanette Harris knocked down a jumper in the paint to cut Virginia Tech’s lead to five with just over a minute left, Pitt called timeout to discuss how it could stop the Hokies on the other end of the floor.

Coming out, the Panthers used their full-court press — as they had throughout the second half — to bleed the shot clock down to five seconds as VT’s leading scorer, Elizabeth Kitley, was successfully trapped in a double-team up near the elbow.

It almost worked. 

As Kitley tried to break the pressure, Azana Baines stood alone halfway between the right corner and the paint. Instinctively, she cut towards the basket as Kitley fired the basketball in her direction. Baines caught the pass, raised her right arm, and laid the shot into the basket, giving the Hokies a 69-62 lead with 38 seconds to go, and bringing a collective sigh of relief.

“[The play] was actually drawn up for me to get a down screen — we’ve run it a lot — but they were cheating it,” Kitley said of the play afterwards. “Her [defender] had to come to me, so I was hoping she was there and she was.”

After facing a 21-point deficit midway through the third quarter, Pitt (10-8, 1-8 ACC) clawed back to within four points, but Virginia Tech (14-4, 6-1) held on in a gritty 75-65 win. Baines’ make was her first of the night and it couldn’t have come at a better time as a rejuvenated Cassell Coliseum sprang to life after her bucket.

“She’s our muscle,” Tech head coach Kenny Brooks said of Baines. “She’s a starter, you know, and she had the situation where she was out for a little bit. … But she’s going to play starter minutes. She’s our muscle — she’s the most physical kid on our team.”

And physical she is. While the junior only found the bottom of the basket once in her four attempts on Thursday, she recorded a game-high 12 rebounds. Brooks has let his 6-foot-1 guard play at the 4 for most of the season, mainly due to a lack of size and depth down low, and Baines has lived up to the challenge.

She provides a complement to a 6-foot-6 Kitley, who doesn’t have to be down in the paint for every chance the Hokies have at a rebound. That was evident on Thursday night when her double-double streak was snapped at seven games after recording 27 points and seven rebounds.

It’s Kitley who’s taken the ‘superstar’ role on the team. As teams continue to put their best perimeter defender on Aisha Sheppard (seven points on 2-of-10 shooting), the offense flows through Kitley and it opens up more shots for her.

Elizabeth Kitley has looked like the best player in the ACC this season. (Virginia Tech sports photography)

“The next part of her evolution [is from beyond the arc],” Brooks said.

She attributes her — and the team’s — focus for all 40 minutes to maturity. As seen in years past, Virginia Tech would build a double-digit lead heading into the halftime break only to collapse down the stretch in the second.

Early on, the Hokies were getting open looks at the basket and were knocking down shots with ease. They started on a 21-8 run to open the game, knocking down five of the first seven 3-pointers they took in the first seven minutes, three of which came from Cayla King.

As Virginia Tech hit any shot it took, taking a 46-27 lead into the half, Pitt meanwhile, struggled. The Panthers allowed VT to score its most points in a half in an ACC game this season, and couldn’t stop the bleeding with their shooting (27.8%).

Yet Pitt hung around. At the half, the Panthers did something no team had tried before on the Hokies this season: a full-court press. Pitt started a half-court press late in the first half, and the switch worked, opening the game back up. 

Though Virginia Tech worked up to a 21-point lead midway through the third quarter, a 14-8 run to close the period brought Pitt back to within 15. 

Then, as the next period started, the wheels on the Hokies’ wagon almost fell off. A 9-0 run from the Panthers to open the quarter closed the gap to six as Pitt’s press forced Baines and a fatigued Kayana Traylor, Brooks said, into bad passes.

“They got tired, they got tired,” Brooks said. “I didn’t think they really handled the pressure that well. But you get in that situation, you give credit to Pitt, it’s what they do.”

With the extra pressure, Tech also took solid — but not good — shots, and Pitt closed the deficit to just four points on a Jayla Everett (20 points) 3-pointer with 35 seconds left. But at that point it was too late. The Panthers had to resort to fouling.

They fouled Traylor once and Kitley twice, and the two of them combined to make all six of their free throws to put the Hokies up by 10 and the game out of reach.

Kayana Traylor and Elizabeth Kitley made six clutch free throws down the stretch. (Virginia Tech sports photography)

It wasn’t the Virginia Tech of last season where, even if it built a double-digit lead, the team might collapse down the stretch. Now, with more experience, the Hokies have matured and give themselves a fighting chance, even when they’ve been knocked down.

“We learned a lot from last year, you know those close games,” Brooks said. “You hate to go through it, but it’s a pretty good situation to go through all of that, learn and still make the tournament — and have the same team. It’s kind of beautiful to go through it.”

Despite almost coughing up a 21-point lead, Kitley and Virginia Tech delivered when it counted — on the pass on the backdoor cut to Baines, in the mid-range, and of course in the final moments at the free-throw line.

Box score: Link

4 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. Great article. If it were written by a lot of our posters, it would have projected doom and gloom. But alas, we got a journalistic look at the game.

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