It is often said that a great team needs to know how to win, even when they don’t play their best game, and that is exactly what Virginia Tech did against 2023 WNIT champs Kansas.
In a game that featured 17 lead changes, it was a nail-biter from start to finish, but the 9th-ranked Hokies escaped after a missed go-ahead shot attempt from Ryan Cobbins with just 5 seconds to go, to get a 59-58 win over the Kansas Jayhawks in the 2023 Women’s Cayman Islands Classic.
It was an ugly offensive evening for two teams that each average over 80 points per game in the young season, but plenty of credit has to go to the defenses of both of these teams.
Kansas was able to keep this game close by forcing 21 turnovers, including nine turnovers from Georgia Amoore, alone. In a game where six Jayhawks got on the steals column, Kansas was able to pressure Virginia Tech's ball handlers and jump passing lanes, making it difficult for the Hokies to get comfortable and find their offensive rhythm. And despite a rough shooting night, Kansas was able to capitalize off of many of those steals, notching 17 points off of turnovers on the night.
On the other side of the ball, the Hokies were able to continue their winning formula of funneling their opponents into Elizabeth Kitley and letting her do the rest. Kitley, who was averaging 2.5 blocks prior to this game, ended this one with 5 blocks, while still closing out each possession on the glass, where she grabbed 15 defensive rebounds. On the perimeter, Cayla King impressed with 3 steals, which contributed to the 15 turnovers the Hokies forced on the game.
Despite all the great defense played tonight by both teams, the one person the Kansas Jayhawks simply couldn’t stop was the two-time reigning ACC Player of the Year, Kitley. The fifth year center was nothing short of unstoppable, dropping 31 points, to go along with 18 rebounds, five blocks, and three assists. Kitley scored over half of Virginia Tech’s points, utilizing her array of pick and roll finishes, post moves, mid-range buckets, and efficient free throw shooting.
Kitley entered her name into multiple record books with her last few performances, as she became the first player in program history to have consecutive 30+ point, 10+ rebound games, as well as becoming the first ACC athlete in a quarter of a century to have at least 30 points, 15 rebounds, and five blocks in a single game. Somehow, after two straight ACC Player of the Year Awards, the 6’6'' center continues to improve, as so far this season, she has improved her points per game by over seven points from last season, not to mention her continued dominance blocking shots, and on the glass.
Despite the sensational play from Kitley and Georgia Amore this season, there is no doubt that Kenny Brooks would like to see a bit more offensive production from the surrounding role players, as Kitley and Amoore combined for over 76% of the Hokies total points this game.
While the Hokies got by with a small rotation last season on their magical Final Four run, they will still need to see a bit more production off of the bench, as a Carleigh Wenzel free throw was the bench unit’s only point against Kansas. Putting so much pressure on the starters for an entire season could be a recipe for disaster, as the Hokies need their stars fresh entering March. The good news is that this seems to be aberration given the improved that the Hokies have shown prior to this game.
On the other hand, Kansas displayed a balanced scoring attack in which seven players scored at least five points, while no one scored more than 13 points.
The Hokies will be happy to walk away with a victory, but they know they need to clean up their sloppiness, turning the ball over 21 times. However, there are always going to be games where the offense isn’t rolling and a great team needs to figure out how to win without playing well. The fact that the Hokies have a defense that can overcome a weak offensive effort, and a superstar who can take over a game when everything else seems to be failing, bodes well for Virginia Tech in the future.
Looking ahead, the Hokies only get about 12 hours to recover, facing Tulane at 11 am on November 25th in their second game in the Caribbean.