Heading into the fourth quarter of the 2023 ACC Women's Basketball Tournament championship game, Virginia Tech was in need of a knockout punch. The Hokies were up for most of the game, leading by 10 points at halftime and eight at the end of the third. However, the Cardinals remained pesky until the very end. After a 13-8 Louisville stretch to close the third, the Hokies came out firing on all cylinders to jump start the title-clinching quarter.
Kayana Traylor nailed a step back three, followed by back-to-back drilled two-point jumpers from ACC Tournament MVP Georgia Amoore, and Taylor Soule. The Hokies rode the wave of momentum all the way to the end, winning their first ACC Tournament championship in program history with a 75-67 victory over the Cardinals at the Greensboro Coliseum Sunday afternoon. As expected, there was plenty of joy from both players and coaches.
“I'm so proud. So proud to be associated with this group, this university, this athletic program. The resiliency that these kids showed throughout the year, the support that we got from Hokie Nation all year long. I knew when these kids came and they committed to us, I knew eventually we were going to be playing for different things, and they proved me right.” head coach Kenny Brooks said postgame.
After Louisville opened the game up 10-6 at the six minute mark of the first quarter, Tech quickly snatched the lead back from the Cardinals thanks to a pair of pull-up threes from Traylor. From the three minute point of the first quarter through to the final buzzer, the Hokies never relinquished the lead.
One of the most critical factors of the game was Tech’s offensive efficiency against a challenging Louisville defense. The Hokies didn’t get off as clean of looks as they had in their previous two tournament victories. Rather, Tech had to earn every basket they made and keep their composure throughout.
“Their defense was good tonight. They mixed it up. We got stagnant a couple times when they went to the zone, but we made some big shots,” Brooks said. “We made some hustle plays. Their pressure kind of just threw us out of rhythm a little bit, but they're good.”
The Hokies were hacked and sent to the free throw line all game long. When tested at the charity stripe – Tech was money – shooting 25-27 for the game and a perfect 12-12 at the line in the fourth quarter. It was Amoore and Liz Kitley in particular who were frequent foul recipients. The dynamic duo finished 18-19 from the foul line and knocked down the few clutch ones that the Hokies needed to salt the game away.
“You look at it, Louisville never gave up, and they kept hitting shots, big three. I just kept saying, okay, if they miss that one, the game is over with, and they kept making them,” Brooks said. “Georgia kept getting the basketball, they fouled her, she made her free throws. Liz got fouled towards the end, she made her free throws. That just sealed the deal.”
The dynamite pairing of Kitley and Amoore were the key cogs in Tech’s championship victory, as they have been all season long. Amoore poured in a team-high 25 points including three triples, and dished out four assists. She became the ACC Women’s Basketball Tournament record holder for most three pointers made with 14 canned triples in only three games and took home Tournament MVP honors.
“I don't even know, like it really hasn't sunk in. I'm sure in the next week when we have spring break and we don't have anything to do, I'm going to be really thinking about it. But it's so good. It's so good for Virginia Tech and the women's program.” Georgia Amoore told reporters postgame.
Kitley lived up to her two-time ACC Player of the Year pedigree, starting fast by scoring six of Tech’s first nine points off a trifecta of sweet spot two-point jumpers. Kitley finished with 20 points on 6-11 shooting plus five rebounds and two blocks. Like Amoore, Kitley too will revel in the joy and jubilation that comes from winning an ACC Title.
“It hasn't fully sunk in yet, but I'm sure that it will over the next few weeks. But it's awesome to have that banner in Cassell. It's going to be there forever and remind me of it.” Liz Kitley said postgame.
Both Hokie superstars were the driving forces of this high-powered Tech offense and kept the ship steady at every stage of the championship game. Given Amoore’s and Kitley’s newest accomplishment in leading the program to their first ACC Championship, Tech fans won’t soon forget the legacy both women have built in Blacksburg.
“It isn't for everyone. I'm not going to sit here and say it's for everyone. But these kids, if you buy into it and what we're doing and believe in it, things like this can happen. These kids bought in, they understand it. Their legacy will long live at Virginia Tech.” Brooks said.
In addition to the flawless play of Amoore and Kitley, Tech saw many others get in on the action and contribute in big time ways. Taylor Soule chipped in 13 points, nine of which came in a pivotal third quarter stretch, as well as snatched five rebounds. Tech’s other two starters, Cayla King and Traylor added 13 points to the Hokies scorecard and played great defense.
“Cayla King scored four points, and she did a phenomenal job on Hailey Van Lith, phenomenal,” Brooks said. “Everybody played well. D'asia Gregg played well, Kayana Traylor played well.”
Through a calm and connected team effort, Virginia Tech ran the table in the ACC Tournament, beating Miami, Duke and Louisville consecutively to clinch the conference championship in tournament town. The Hokies are now winners of 11-straight games and have set themselves up to potentially be a one seed in the NCAA Tournament.
“It was a very tough stretch we had. You think about the last five games, six games of our regular season, we played four or five teams that were ranked and then playing the teams that we had to play in the tournament,” Brooks said. “They need the time off. They deserved it. They've worked really hard.”
If it wasn’t clear before this ACC Tournament run, it should be now. Virginia Tech is one of the frontline contenders for a Final Four run in the Big Dance. They are clearly in the midst of a very special season for not just the program but in all of Virginia Tech athletics history that fans will remember for a long time.