CHARLOTTE, N.C. — No. 8 Virginia Tech came up short in Thursday night’s heavyweight fight against No. 3 Iowa in Charlotte, falling 80-76.
“We’re a work in progress,” Tech head coach Kenny Brooks said after the loss. “… We didn’t do everything right, we didn’t, but we played hard and we will fix the things we need to fix, but I’m very proud of their effort.”
— David Cunningham (@therealdcunna) November 10, 2023
All 15,196 spectators in the Spectrum Center got their money’s worth watching the Hokies (1-1) and Hawkeyes (2-0).
Caitlin Clark scored 44 points, one shy of her career-high and the most ever by an opponent against Tech, making 13 of her 31 field goals while converting 13-of-17 foul shots. On the other side, Georgia Amoore was electric with a career-high 31 points (10-of-23 FG, 7-of-14 3FG).
“You’re playing a generational player,” Brooks said of Clark. “… I love my girls, but sometimes you’re playing checkers and she’s playing chess. She’s that good. But I thought we did a good job of making her work and think a lot tonight.”
The game, which featured 11 lead changes, came down to the final possession. Amoore drained a three with five seconds remaining, giving Tech one final glimmer of hope before Clark sealed the game with a free throw.
A battle of two of the nation’s best teams and arguably the two best guards in the country delivered, even though both teams didn’t shoot well. There was drama, from Amoore’s halfcourt buzzer beater at the end of the first quarter and Cayla King elbowing Elizabeth Kitley in the face (which Brooks said might result in stitches) to Clark drawing 16 fouls.
GEORGIA AMOORE FROM HALF COURT AT THE BUZZER 🚨 pic.twitter.com/PG67wlT6ar
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) November 10, 2023
There’s a reason why both coaches cringed at the idea of playing this game in November, however; It looked like the second game of the season from the jump. The teams were a combined 14-of-41 (34%) from the floor, 4-of-18 (22%) from behind the arc with five turnovers in the first quarter and struggled to settle in.
Shots were off target, passes were awry and, combined with 21 first-half fouls, it was very choppy. Brooks said his group never found a rhythm.
Tech did its best to slow down Clark and held her to 18 points on 6-of-15 shooting in the first half. Amoore matched her with 18, courtesy of four 3-pointers. But guarding Clark took its toll over the course of the game.
King picked up two quick fouls in the first quarter. Matilda Ekh had two before halftime, as did Amoore. Redshirt freshman Carleigh Wenzel, who had quite a night with 11 points on 4-of-4 shooting, committed three before intermission.
Like the way the game was officiated or not, Clark & Co. used that to their advantage, shooting 22 free throws on the night (and making 18). Three Tech players finished with four fouls — King, Ekh and true freshman Carys Baker — while Wenzel fouled out late in the game. As a result, Clark started to get going, and she scored 26 of her 44 in the second half, including 16 in the fourth. That carried Iowa.
“We were in foul trouble from the start,” Brooks said. “Cayla got in foul trouble and Matilda got in foul trouble, Carleigh got in foul trouble. It just really threw us off with our gameplan. We got stagnant a little bit, but we’ll continue to get better.”
On the other side, Tech tried to keep pace. The offense was stagnant at times and shots that often fall did not. But the Hawkeyes were stingy and defended Kitley intelligently. It worked considering she scored the first two points of the game for Tech and then missed six consecutive shots before getting going in the fourth quarter.
“We tried to mix up the way we played against her depending on who was guarding her,” Iowa head coach Lisa Bluder said. “Hannah [Stuelke] was trying to faceguard her and try to keep the ball out of her hands. … Sharon [Goodman], on the other hand, was playing behind her. We were trying to mix up what we were doing with her so she just never really, hopefully, got comfortable with that.”
There were also other offensive struggles. Ekh and King had seven and six points, respectively, all of which came in the second half. Carys Baker and Olivia Summiel each came off the bench and scored a basket. Summiel was also Tech’s second-leading rebounder with eight, crucial in a 47-40 deficit on the boards. On top of that, forward Rose Micheaux, who started the game, oddly played just seven minutes and did not score.
The Hokies, who started 2-of-10 from the field, finally got going late in the first period when Amoore and Wenzel generated a 7-0 run. That duo really carried the team in the first half, combining for 26 of the 32 points. The only other contributor was Kitley with six, who was awfully quiet for the majority of the contest despite getting solid looks.
Kitley found her groove down the stretch, hitting 5-of-8 shots and scoring 10 of her 16 late, and grabbed 16 rebounds. That gave the Hokies a chance, and after trailing for a good chunk of the third quarter, they pulled within two points with seven minutes to go. To that point, Iowa was a perfect 5-of-5 in the period while Tech was 5-of-7, and it appeared the basketball gods decided to remove the lid from the rim.
“In the fourth quarter, it got exciting,” Clark said. “We were trading threes and it felt like that’s really what both teams are about, really great offense, can shoot the ball really well.”
The shooting numbers in the final period were astounding. Iowa was 9-of-13 (69%); for the rest of the game, it was 19-of-55 (35%). Tech was 11-of-22 (50%) in that 10-minute span but 17-of-50 (34%) otherwise.
But just when a quick 6-0 run from the Hokies, helped out by a turnover from Clark, brought them within two and appeared to swing the momentum in the arena, everything slipped away. In hindsight, it was likely Tech’s best chance to regain the lead, but a chaotic series of events unfolded.
Iowa’s Gabbie Marshall lost the ball to Ekh, who took off down the court on a fastbreak but was cut off by Clark. At the same time, she was pickpocketed from behind by Molly Davis. It was a quick turn of events in transition, and Clark quickly found Martin, who converted a layup to kill Tech’s vibe.
It was all Iowa from there, courtesy of six free throws from Clark. Though Tech made jabs at the lead thanks to a few treys from Amoore, the Hawkeyes were comfortable in the driver’s seat and held off the Hokies in thrilling fashion.
“I really felt like this was late February, early March,” Brooks said. “The intensity was unbelievable, just going back and forth, testing my wits against Lisa and vice versa. … It is a little bit of a stretch to get in the second game, but I think this is going to benefit us, we’re going to learn from this and we’ll get better from this.”
It was a disappointing result for the Hokies after a historic night, one that featured their largest regular-season crowd in program history. The atmosphere in the Spectrum Center was electric; it felt like basketball heaven, and Clark and Amoore were the welcoming party, two of the best in the game trading blows.
Amoore joked afterwards that Clark has been “gifted by every God you can imagine.” Clark said it’s obvious Amoore is one of the best point guards in the country. And together, they put on a show on Thursday night in a game that lived up to the hype on both sides, even if Tech now has a mark in the loss column.
The night was a victory for women’s basketball, one with an aura comparable to that of the Final Four. Both coaches described it as a win-win situation, and though neither team played up to its expectations, the game delivered.
“I used to coach on the men’s side and I switched over to the women’s side and I’ve been fighting and championing for the cause for a long time for women to be able to get this opportunity,” Brooks said. “And tonight, it was like a dream come true.
“We’re disappointed as hell with losing the game, but I thought it was a fantastic game. … We were glad we were a part of it. We hope that we helped women’s basketball move forward tonight, and I’m so proud of these kids.”
Box Score: No. 3 Iowa 80, No. 8 Virginia Tech 76