Once Elizabeth Kitley grabbed Ashley Owusu’s miss a mere foot from the basket early in the first quarter, you could have already started re-writing the women’s basketball’s record book for the Hokies.
Kitley came down with the basketball and went back up again, watching her put-back fall through the bottom of the hoop. In that moment, Kitley secured the all-time lead in field goals as she surpassed Tere Williams’ mark with 695 career baskets.
“I didn’t even think about [breaking records],” Kitley said when asked about that possibility when she was recruited.
And when you broke the end result down to the simplest form – a field goal – it gave Virginia Tech an early spark as it played through some early offensive woes. Kitley converted the and-one attempt to bring Tech back to within two points as it ended the first quarter on a 10-2 run.
As the period ended and as Kitley’s achievement was announced to the crowd, Cayla King, someone who Kitley has known since childhood, gave her a hug as she tried to deflect the attention to her team.
Kitley has always been a team-first player, rather than someone who’s focused on individual accolades. She’ll tell you that, her teammates will tell you that, and most importantly, her head coach will tell anyone that.
Because, in the end, there was still a game to play. Kitley’s record-breaking field goal (and her team-high 28 points), in the midst of some team struggles, gave the No. 12 Hokies (16-3, 6-3 ACC) the confidence they needed to break Wake Forest’s zone defense in their 74-57 win over the Demon Deacons (11-9, 2-7 ACC) on Sunday afternoon in Cassell Coliseum.
“For her to be breaking these records, I think what it means is that Hokie Nation, we as Hokie Nation, we can’t take her greatness for granted,” Brooks said after the victory. “… When you start to hear the things that she’s about to accomplish, here, in the next probably, I don’t know, five-to-seven games, you’ve got to really step back and say, ‘Wow.’”
Had Virginia Tech lost, it would have dug itself back into the hole it was in earlier this season. It lost three of its first six conference games before it edged out Louisville at home and beat Pitt on the road on Thursday.
Before the win over the Cardinals, the Hokies were idling towards the middle of the ACC. They’ve since risen to fifth place and were a game behind the Cardinals and Florida State before play began on Sunday.
A loss to Wake Forest could have dropped Tech back to the middle of the pack in the ACC entering the final nine conference games. But a win, which the Hokies fought for 40 minutes for, kept them in contention for a top-four seed in the thick of their schedule.
“We just can’t lose our mind,” Tech’s point guard Georgia Amoore said. “We have to play aggressive all the time and we can’t have a switch that goes on and off. The big focus is that we have to be the hunters.”
Early on, though, Tech struggled to work though the Demon Deacons’ zone, which allowed them to jump out to an early 8-4 lead. A couple of early misses set VT back, but once Kitley converted her record-breaking and-one, Tech took off.
The Hokies outscored Wake Forest 21-5 over a nine-minute span between the first and second quarter. They improved from the floor, making seven of their 15 attempts before halftime. And the defense was solid, too. It forced 12 Wake turnovers and scored 16 points off of its errors in the first half as the Hokies took a 35-20 lead into the half.
But in the third, Virginia Tech began to slip after Brooks was assessed with a technical foul with 5:20 left in the quarter. To that point, Virginia Tech had a 16-point lead, but after the tech, Wake Forest’s Jewel Spear scored 14 during her team’s 20-8 run to close out the quarter to pull within three points, 53-50.
“It’s always gonna be tough,” Brooks said. “Throughout the year, we have to make sure – myself included – that we keep our emotions in check. If I’m going to get a technical foul, it needs … [to] pick us up and not give up a run.”
However, Tech’s veteran leadership regrouped and came back out in the fourth quarter with confidence. It started with a Kitley turnaround jumper, then two free throws by Taylor Soule and then another layup from Kitley to give VT some more breathing room.
“Our kids did a great job of picking me up,” Brooks said. “And the resiliency [they showed] once Wake Forest got down by three – they dug in and the defense picked up – and we were able to capitalize on some offensive possessions and push the lead back out.”
Then a barrage of buckets – from Soule, Kayana Traylor and Kitley – mixed with some stout defense from Tech allowed the Hokies to outscore Wake Forest by 14 in the final quarter to let box score-checkers think that Tech dominated the entire night.
And outside of the first few minutes of the first quarter and for about five minutes in the third, Tech was the aggressor all afternoon. Even though Virginia Tech fell into a funk, it never surrendered the lead after the 1:27 mark in the first half.
Kitley’s 28 points led the way, but Amoore (17) and Soule (16) made big baskets when needed. And the defense held Wake Forest to just 2-of-12 from the floor in the final 10 minutes.
It was a day that Kitley – and her team – could continue celebrating past the final buzzer. Amoore became the school’s all-time assist leader in ACC play with her six on Sunday while Kitley sits at 999 career rebounds, one shy of a historic mark.
“I don’t know if I ever think it’s possible for her to break these records [when we were recruiting her],” Brooks said. “… I remember when we were recruiting her, she and [NC State’s Elissa] Cunane played on the same AAU team and I told my brother that I want the ‘brown hair girl,’ I want [Kitley]. And he goes, ‘Are you sure you don’t want the blonde one [Cunane]?’
“And I said, ‘Yeah, I want [Cunane] too, but I think the brown haired girl is going to be better.’”
Box score: Link