Two years ago, the Virginia Tech Women’s Basketball team started their ACC Tournament run as a No. 5 seed with their first opponent being a 13 seed in Wake Forest with tipoff happening at 11 a.m.
It didn’t go as hoped for the Hokies, as they fell by three in their opening matchup.
Flash forward to 2022, and the No. 5 seeded Hokies were right back in a similar situation. starting their ACC Tournament against No. 13 Clemson with an 11 a.m. tip.
This ending had a much better fate for Kenny Brooks and Co. as they took down the Tigers 82-60 in the second round to advance to the ACC Tournament quarterfinals.
“We changed our mindset,” Brooks said. “I told them we had a 7:00 a.m. pregame, and said, look, come down at 7:00 a.m. and don't just bring your body, bring your mind.”
That message seemed to carry some weight on the players as they recorded 53 first half points and shot nearly 80 percent from the floor, led by their All-ACC honorees.
ACC Player of the Year Elizabeth Kitley secured another double-double with her 19 points and team-best 10 rebounds while Second Team All-ACC Aisha Sheppard had a game-high 20 points.
“Clemson's MO is to get you out of rhythm and to kind of speed you up,” Sheppard said. “We were determined to make sure that we stayed the course and did what we were supposed to do and what we practiced, and we ended up being able to find the open person and knock down shots early.”
All-ACC Honorable Mention Georgia Amoore contributed to the fast start as well with seven of her 15 total points coming in the opening quarter. Coming off the bench, Kayana Traylor recorded 10 points in the second quarter en route to her 16-point performance.
The biggest scare for the Hokies came in the second quarter when guard Cayla King went down with an injury and needed help off the court. Kenny Brooks didn’t know how severe the injury was at the time, but he knows he might be without his guard for a little bit of time.
“I think she was walking out on crutches,” Brooks said. “You're not going to replace Cayla King and what she brings to us. She's like my security blanket, and she does so many things on the defensive end. She's a great connector. We value her. But the beauty is that we hope to get her back for the NCAA Tournament.”
After missing only five baskets in the first half, the Hokies cooled off a bit in the second half but had built a lead so widespread that they were able to coast towards another 20+ point victory over the Tigers.
The mission for a chance at the championship will gear up tomorrow as they face No. 4 seeded North Carolina with another 11 a.m. tip-off.
“Now we're used to it.” Kitley said. “We had practice at 11:00 on Tuesday to prepare for this game, and now we have this 11:00 a.m. game under our belt, so we'll be ready for it tomorrow.”
In the regular season, the two programs split the series with North Carolina thrashing Virginia Tech, 71-46 in Chapel Hill on Jan. 9 only for Virginia Tech to respond with a win of their own in Blacksburg, a 66-61 result on Feb. 13.
With a win on Friday, it would be the program’s first appearance into the ACC Tournament semifinal round; they have reached the quarterfinals six times prior to this year’s edition.
“The rivalry is very healthy,” Brooks said. “As I was walking out to go to the game, her assistants were walking behind me to come and scout us. And I told them, ‘You can scout us all you want, but we're going to put in a whole new package tomorrow.’ ”