In front of a boisterous Cassell Coliseum crowd on Friday evening, No. 1 seed Virginia Tech shut down No. 16 seed Chattanooga in a 58-33 contest in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
The host Hokies (28-4) were solid from the opening tip, imposing their will on the Mocs (20-13), especially on the defensive end. While they got shots to fall – All-Americans Georgia Amoore and Elizabeth Kitley combined for 23 points in the first half – they held Chattanooga scoreless for almost 10 minutes.
At the break, Tech led by 15, 31-16, and the Mocs were 6-of-22 from the floor. From there, the Hokies cruised the rest of the way for their 28th win on the year, tying the most in a season in program history (1999). It was also their 12th in a row, a streak that dates back to Jan. 29.
“We were a little bit rusty, which I felt like we were going to be,” Virginia Tech head coach Kenny Brooks said afterwards. “But it’s always good to get a win to start everything and then to keep it going. The old adage is ‘survive and advance.’ We want to be a little bit better than that. But we were fortunate enough to get a win today.”
Chattanooga forced Tech to turn it over eight times in the first half, a high number considering it had just five assists. But much of that was due to the stylistic similarities from Brooks and Shawn Poppie, who served as a Hokies’ assistant from 2016-22.
But Tech turned defense into offense. It scored 15 points off turnovers, 11 of which came in the first half, and never let Chattanooga find a rhythm.
“I think we played really good defense,” Amoore said. “I just think that the standards we hold ourselves to are much higher than that. We knew coming into the game that they were going to score off our mistakes, so obviously it was a focus. Just a bit disappointed, but we knew that was going to be their focal point. I do think a lot of their 33 points was from that, but overall, we played good defense.”
Yazz Wazeerud-Din, the Mocs’ leading scorer entering the NCAA tournament with 15.9 points-per-game, didn’t get on the board until the 4:50 mark in the second quarter against the Hokies. She finished with 10 points, though much of that production came in the second half.
Chattanooga couldn’t find a way to slow down the duo of Kitley and Amoore while Kayana Traylor and Taylor Soule chipped in 12 and 10 points, respectively. It helped that the Hokies were dominant on the boards, too – they won that battle by 16, 38-22. And though Soule left the game in the fourth quarter with a left leg injury, Brooks said afterwards that she was able to go if needed.
Though the Mocs never pulled closer than 15 points, the game was back-and-forth in the second half. Their defense improved and they limited Tech to 5-of-13 from the floor in the third quarter. They also did everything in their power to slow down Kitley, who recorded her 20th double-double on the year with 12 and 14.
“We sent a double every time [Kitley] caught it,” Poppie said. “Any time she caught it, we were trying to run people at her. … I thought for the most part, we did a pretty solid job defensively. … But you can’t shoot 28% against them and think you have a chance.”
However, Kitley grew more comfortable passing out of their traps and double teams as the game went on, and Amoore started to heat up. She scored three baskets in a row for Tech, including a 3-pointer off a pump fake and sidestep, in a span of three minutes in the second half.
Named the ACC tournament MVP back on March 5, Amoore has 11 20-point games to her name this season after finishing with 22 on Friday. In her last three outings, she’s scored 71 while grabbing 10 rebounds and dishing out 13 assists.
Poppie’s had a unique vantage point watching from afar. He spent a large chunk of time mentoring the guards when he was with the program. As a result, he saw Amoore adjust to the American game after moving from Australia. He had a front row seat to her development. And it doesn’t surprise him that she’s playing at an elite level this year.
“What makes her so hard to guard is that, first and foremost, she can score at all three levels,” Poppie said. “And she’s got such a pace to herself that it’s hard to… I mean, we were trying to funnel her into areas tonight to try to get her to shoot twos because she’s so deadly with her little step-back.
“She can play in transition, she can play on the ball screen. They’ve added some stuff to play her out of some staggered screens. You just can’t lose any kind of focus on her. She hit a three to start the fourth quarter. We knew the play call. We know what’s coming, and she still gets a wide open three. That’s how special she is.”
Virginia Tech improves to 4-2 all-time in NCAA tournament games in Cassell Coliseum with the victory. Friday night’s crowd was the second sellout for the program in school history behind the first-round game in the 1999 NCAA tournament in Blacksburg vs. St. Peter’s. At that time, attendance was 10,052.
Sunday’s second round game, where the Hokies will No. 9 seed South Dakota State, will be the third sellout in Tech’s history. The Jackrabbits defeated No. 8 seed USC in overtime late Friday night, 62-57. The game will tip at 5 p.m. ET and be televised on ESPN2.
“South Dakota State, I don’t think they’ve lost since like, 10 years,” Brooks said. “So, we’re going to have our hands full. We understand that.”
Box Score: No. 1 Virginia Tech 58, No. 16 Chattanooga 33
Transcript: Kenny Brooks, Elizabeth Kitley, Georgia Amoore
Transcript: Shawn Poppie, Yazz Wazeerud-Din, Abbey Cornelius
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Just a little inane negative -yesterday was the first time I sat across from the team bench (my season seats are in section 8) near the tunnel at section 11. 100% of the audio whether Bailey Angle’s stuff or the PA guy’s, was almost inaudible. Didn’t take away from the sheer enjoyment of the win but I wondered why.
“Chattanooga couldn’t find a way to slow down the duo of Kitley and Amoore, and Taylor Soule chipped in 44 points”
You’d think Soule would be the story having 44 points…
Ya think Poppie’s going to stay in Chattanooga too much longer? Look how much his resume improved in the last month, obviously winning the SoCon but also he can take credit in VT’s run this year too. Maybe another year and some other schools will come calling.
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