And then there were four. Virginia Tech has kicked off their stay in Dallas by going through practices to prepare for their semifinal matchup with the LSU Tigers this Friday. Before one of the most historic games in Hokie athletics history, let’s take one look back at one of the primary reasons Tech advanced to this position.
Entering halftime of Tech’s Elite Eight matchup against Ohio State, the Hokies found themselves up three. Liz Kitley was chugging along at a steady rate but had dealt with a lot of physical defense from the Buckeyes.
Still, the ACC Player of the Year notched 10 points, three rebounds, and four turnovers through the first 20 minutes. In the latter half of the game, Kitley dominated her way through Ohio State. She finished with a game-high 25 points, 12 rebounds, three blocks, and four turnovers.
In fact, Kitley racked up 15 points, nine boards, three blocks and no turnovers in the third and fourth quarters. Here’s a look at Kitley’s two-way dominance and how her play helped Tech clinch their first ever bid to the Final Four.
Coming into the game, it was known that Ohio State didn’t have the size to defend Kitley for a full 40 minutes. With only one rotation player standing over 6’1, the Buckeyes struggled to account for Kitley’s presence inside, especially as the second half went along.
To start this sequence, Taylor Soule kicks out to Kayana Traylor, who then hits the closeout defender with a nasty pump fake and re-drives to scramble the defense. Once Kitley gets the laydown pass from Traylor, she wisely doesn’t go up right away. Instead, Kitley pauses to take a dribble which fakes out the defender draped on her back and rises after one more pivot for the cleaner finish.
KItley strikingly went from zero blocks in the first half to three total rejections by the end of the game. Virginia Tech's career leader in blocked shots proved why her interior rim protection is of the utmost importance to the Hokies' defense.
Ohio State runs a set that operates around the middle of the floor. Tech defends the Buckeye guards well so Eboni Walker decides to drive herself. Kitley reacts a tad late but slides her feet in time to meet Walker when she picks up her dribble. Kitley keeps her hand vertical and moves it to perfectly time up a blocked shot and tip it out to a teammate.
Not only was this bucket the most skilled and advanced of this game, but I’d bet it was one of her best moves of the year. Tech runs Cayla King off a staggered screen with the intention to deliver the ball to Kitley quickly after King receives an initial pass. Kitley establishes great position on her defender before facing up to make a move in isolation. As Ohio State often did in the halfcourt, the Buckeyes brought a hard double team to Kitley.
In the first half, some of these possessions resulted in turnovers or bad shots. Not the case this time as Kitley backs into her defenders, feels off the one from the back side and cuts through both with a beautiful step through pivot move. Kitley clears enough space to gallop into a tough shot, aiming for the high glass and flicking the ball in off the window. A fabulous move from Kitley, who displayed perfect footwork and a graceful finish.
The biggest talking point coming into the Hokies and Buckeyes Elite Eight showdown was how Tech would fare against Ohio State’s vaunted press defense. Turns out, the Hokies weren’t all too fazed. Behind the speed of Georgia Amoore and Kayana Traylor, Tech broke the press more times than they let it get to them.
Ohio State used the tactic sparingly after the first five minutes of the game but broke it out again in the fourth quarter. Of course, with any press defense, if the offense gets the ball ahead of the press, you can bet there's a high likelihood that they’ll score.
Such was the case when Amoore raced by a crowd of Buckeyes to pass the ball ahead to King on the right wing. King promptly found Kitley down low who was left all alone and scored an easy bucket.
One possession later, Kitley proceeded to pull out her great equalizer, the patented face-up jumper. Kitley expertly seals off her defender to gain solid positioning. Soule delivers a good pass and Kitley catches, turns, plants and shoots all in one fluid motion. The shot is nothing but nylon, as it’s been all season long and Tech continues to grow its lead after back-to-back scores from their All-American.
Here's another example of Kitley and Amoore working hand-in-hand to create magic on the basketball floor. Amoore cooks Cotie McMahon off the dribble and forces help to come her way. This takes the attention of Kitley who’s waiting for a delivery down low. As soon as the defender rotates her way, Amoore laces a bounce pass right in Kitley’s pocket and Liz is able to up fake once and go up for the hoop and draws the foul for a pretty and-one.
The daggers to put the game away weren’t on the offensive end. Instead, they came from Kitley’s phenomenal defensive presence.
The former ACC Defensive Player of the Year served up a double helping of blocks on a platter to the Buckeyes within the final three minutes of play.
The first came when Tech was up by a hearty 12 points. Ohio State attempts to puncture the Hokies' line but Kitley switches onto Taylor Thierry. Kitley shadows her perfectly and swats her shot out of bounds with terrific use of her size, length, and timing.
Finally, with the game all but sealed away for the Hokies, Kitley decided to offer up one more invitation to her second half block party. This one was addressed to Jacy Sheldon. Kitley swarms Sheldon at the rim and eviscerates any chance of a late game comeback. As much of a double-double machine that Kitley is, her defense in the paint is arguably the most impactful part of her game for the Hokies and is a big reason why Tech was able to close out Ohio State and reach their first Final Four.