A ferocious roar overtook the jam-packed Cassell Coliseum just before the tip between one-seed Virginia Tech and 16 seed Chattanooga. Believe it or not, the roar wasn’t to celebrate a play or a moment, rather the Tech faithful bellowed the words to Metallica's Enter Sandman that every Hokie fan knows in their heart.
As the sold out crowd electrified every inch of Cassell, Tech matched that energy on the court to begin their first round bout. After saucy layups from Kayana Traylor and Georgia Amoore, followed by four straight points from Liz Kitley, the Hokies found themselves up 8-0 before the six minute mark of the first quarter.
“It's not like they just filled the seats. It was really loud. It honestly makes a difference to the game, like free throws and everything like that. The stadium was literally shaking.” Georgia Amoore told reporters postgame.
Virginia Tech built on the infectious energy and momentum that the maroon and orange mass gave them and didn’t look back, overwhelming Chattanooga 58-33 to win their 12th straight game and advance to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Four Tech scorers reached double figures and the Hokies held the Mocs to their season low in points.
“It's always good to get a win to start everything and then to keep it going. The old adage is survive and advance,” head coach Kenny Brooks said postgame. “We want to be a little bit better than that. But we were fortunate to be able to get a win today.”
From the onset, Tech was the better team and proved it at each stage of the game. In particular, a 17-0 run that spanned across the end of the first quarter and the beginning of the second was the early-game backbreaker. While Tech’s offense was solid in the first half, it was the defense that remained stifling and even-keeled across all four quarters.
“Our defense was going to surprise a lot of people. Just the way that the kids are connected. They understand each other. They understand the game, they're older, and they're able to take away a lot of different things for you,” Brooks said. “We're not going to try to shut you down, but we're going to make you take tough shots. I thought we did that today, made them take tough shots.”
The Hokies held the Mocs to an ice cold 28% from the field and 22% from behind the three-point arc. Tech was ferocious at the point of attack and forced Chattanooga into 15 turnovers. The Mocs weren't much better on the boards as the Hokies cleaned up the boards to the tune of a 38-22 advantage on the glass.
“They put so much pressure on you to shoot contested jump shots mostly off the dribble. Any screening actions, they're there on the catch. Obviously they funnel you inside to Kitley, which presents a huge problem.” Chattanooga head coach Shawn Poppie said postgame to reporters.
Though it was a team effort defensively, the Hokies soared on the offensive end thanks to the stellar play of their dynamic duo. Georgia Amoore and Liz Kitley combined for 34 points, accounting for 59% of Tech’s offense. For Kitley, she only scored 12 points on 4-6 shooting but was a monster on the glass grabbing 14 rebounds and made lots of winning plays on the floor.
“We kept it vanilla with Liz and really just let her try to figure it out instead of trying to move her around a little bit, but it was a really good game plan. Their kids did a good job executing it.” Brooks said.
Kitley was double and triple teamed throughout the course of the night, yet she was able to utilize the attention she drew to elevate the play of her teammates. That dynamic showed its hand when Kitley drew a double team and flipped a cross court skip pass over to Amoore, who proceeded to drain her fifth and final three of the game.
“We just know that we need to be outlets for each other. She gets pressured a lot of times, and she needs a little break,” Liz Kitley said postgame. Then sometimes if the pressure's on me, I know that she's going to be there moving to be open.”
Being the point guard, it’s usually Amoore’s job to distribute the rock to Kitley. However, through smart tactics and burgeoning on-court chemistry, Kitley has returned the favor to Amoore on several occasions. In addition to the assist on Amoore’s three, Kitley screened Amoore open for her fourth three-pointer a few plays prior.
“I would say Liz and I probably conversate a lot more on the court than is shown. I feel like we have too lengthy of conversations. So I'm just trying to help her because she gets absolutely hounded.” Amoore said.
Amoore herself poured in a game-high 22 points, her 11th performance of 20 or more on the season. She did so shooting 8-17 from the field and breaking the program single season three point record with 99 made triples to date. Amoore broke her former teammate Aisha Sheppard’s previous record of 96 threes in the 2021-22 season with the WNBA champion Sheppard among those in attendance
“Just a level of confidence right now, not really hesitating when I make my shots. I feel sorry for Liz because she does get hounded, but it seriously helps open me up.” Amoore said.
While Tech tried their best to anticipate the fury of a sold out Cassell Coliseum, even the highest of expectations were shattered. From the opening tip to the final buzzer, the Hokies crowd showed out and were loud. 8,925 seats were filled in Tech’s second ever sell out for a women's basketball game in Blacksburg.
"It's awesome. The kids are fantastic. I think one of the girls said it, they don't just show up and sit in the seats. They make a lot of noise,” Brooks said. "I wish they would let us play Enter Sandman. I think the roof would have blown off. We have a great atmosphere. We have great fans. We have so much tradition.”
Tech will take on 9 seed South Dakota State Sunday inside Cassell Coliseum in the second round after the Jackrabbits won a 62-57 overtime thriller over 8 seed USC. It will be the final game at home for the Hokies and certainly one to remember as they’ll have a chance to advance to the Sweet 16 for the first time in the Kenny Brooks era.