The No. 11 Hokies hammered Miami in a 76-52 victory on Thursday in Blacksburg to start ACC play 4-0 for the first time in program history.
“It was a really good for us, probably one of our better wins of the year,” Virginia Tech head coach Kenny Brooks said afterwards. “One of our more complete games, now definitely not complete, but I thought we did a really good job of mixing up our defenses, kind of led to a little bit of our offense. Second quarter was really big for us, we were able to push it open a little bit. … I thought we did a really good job and had contributions from a lot of different people.”
Tech (13-2, 4-0 ACC) was neck and neck with the Hurricanes (11-4, 1-3) through the first 13 minutes but pulled off a 15-0 run over four-plus minutes to pull away and led by double digits for the remainder of the evening.
Elizabeth Kitley was spectacular once again. The reigning ACC Player of the Week, who had two double-doubles of 27 points and 12 rebounds in her second and third conference games, had a casual 23 first-half points. That’s the most by a Tech player in the first half since the school joined the ACC in 2004.
She added eight in the second half to finish with a 31-point, 11-rebound performance on 11-of-19 shooting. It was the sixth 30 and 10 game of her career, the first since November against Kansas in the Cayman Islands. Tech point guard Georgia Amoore joked afterwards that opponents simply can’t guard Kitley.
“She’s been on a tear lately,” Brooks said of Kitley. “… She had been playing great and now she’s playing through that physicality and understanding it. She and I, we work on different things and if someone’s going to play her this way. It’s a copycat league — everyone sees the way people are playing us and what may be deemed successful against her — and we’ll just attack that.
“She still has a lot she hasn’t pulled out. I really want her to step away and really face up and be a guard and shoot it, and we worked on a lot of that stuff and she just hasn’t had to use it right now, but she’s playing well. She’s playing exceptionally well, and we need her to play that well. It opens up so many different things for everyone else around her and that’s why we can be dangerous.”
Miami head coach Katie Meier said her team “didn’t compete” and “had a bunch of no-shows” against the Hokies. The Canes a much different group than the one that went to the Elite Eight last season and beat the Hokies in January. Still, she was very complimentary of the Cassell Coliseum atmosphere — 4,672 fans were in attendance on Thursday — and Kitley’s improvement, even from last season.
“She is spinning out without a dribble quicker than she used to,” Meier said of Kitley. “She’s really worked on her game. It’s hard to believe she’s improved from last year, but she’s highly improved. Her time per touch is lower. She’s not putting it on the floor as much and she does that spin-out fadeaway, which… when she’s hitting that.
“When she scored on the baseline out of bounds plays, we were very upset because we spent a lot of time at shootaround on those plays because she gets 10-12 points a game on those. We just weren’t quick enough to keep up with her. But give credit to her, she knows her spots.”
Amoore and Matilda Ekh joined Kitley in double figures. The Aussie had a slow start for the second straight game, knocking down just two of her nine attempts for six points — she did not score until the 4:11 mark in the second quarter — but ended the game with 16. She had six assists and three rebounds too, though she turned it over seven times. Ekh drained four of her seven 3-pointers en route to a 12-point performance.
A number of other players chipped in too. Olivia Summiel had five points and three boards while Rose Micheaux added three points and four rebounds. True freshman Clara Strack scored just two points but grabbed five boards, four of which came on the offensive glass, in 10 minutes. Carleigh Wenzel was great in 30 minutes with four points, four assists and three rebounds. Cayla King added a 3-pointer, five boards and two assists for good measure.
“We really have adopted that one game at a time mentality,” Brooks said. “We’ll just keep stacking them, but I do like where we’re going. We’re still not there yet, our production is still sporadic. Two games ago it was Carleigh and Carys finishing the game, this game it’s a little bit different. But we did get production from a lot of different people.
“… It’s nightmarish for me because I don’t know who’s going to play going into the game, but as the game gets going, we can say, like tonight and Sunday against NC State, they went small and we were able to play small. And we even countered that tonight, we went big. … So we’ve got options and the kids are starting to get better.”
Unlike Sunday’s historic win over then-No. 3 NC State, it felt like Virginia Tech was always in control of Thursday’s contest, even in the first few minutes when it traded baskets with Miami. Through one quarter, it was knotted up at 14.
Then the Hokies exploded. With the game tied at 20, Kitley hit back-to-back buckets. Strack entered to give Kitley a breather before the media timeout and scored, Amoore got a layup down — plus the foul after the break — before they blitzed the Canes with 3-pointers from Ekh on two straight possessions. Like clockwork, they blew the doors open.
One of the adjustments that helped Tech in that stretch was how it changed defenses. Brooks is primarily a man-to-man coach but has opted for a 2-3 zone recently. And he pulled it out in the middle of that run, which threw Miami a curveball. It missed five consecutive shots and turned the ball over twice in that stretch — once via shot clock violation — as Tech changed things up.
“It’s throwing a lot of teams off,” Amoore said.
“We don’t normally play zone. That’s something that we’ve gone to as of late and it’s worked for us,” Brooks said. “I think it works for us because we’re long. You put Carleigh Wenzel at the top, she’s six-foot. You put Cayla King at the top, she’s six-foot. And they do a pretty good job of communicating. … We’re just trying to use it to our strength and it’s worked for us the last few games.”
The Hokies led 40-24 at halftime, and though it wasn’t a smooth game the rest of the way, they stayed calm and let it come to them. They had nine second-half turnovers, a handful of which they’d like to have back, but when things got physical — Miami received two technical fouls (Lashae Dwyer, Lazaria Spearman) down the stretch — they brushed it off and played their game.
The result was their eighth win in a row. Six of those were by 20 points or more. And for the first time since 2001-02, the program is undefeated through its first four conference games.
Wins are difficult to come by. Just ask teams like Notre Dame and Duke, who are both 2-2. Tech and Louisville are the lone undefeated squads in league play. That streak will be on the line for the Hokies when they travel to No. 21 Florida State on Sunday (1 p.m. ET, ESPN). The ‘Noles (14-4, 5-1 ACC) beat No. 20 North Carolina 70-62 on Thursday.
“That’s a testament to what Coach Brooks has done here and how hard we’ve been working,” said Kitley of the team’s hot start to conference play. “Miami’s a really good team, so coming away from a game like this and winning by this margin means a lot, but we have another opportunity against Florida State on Sunday and they’re also extremely good, but that’s just how this league goes and it’s also why 4-0 is really special.”
Box Score: No. 11 Virginia Tech 76, Miami 52