Virginia Tech and NC State both entered the night playing some of their best basketball of the season with each team having a five-game win streak. Virginia Tech had endured a slightly shakier start to the regular season, losing tough games to Iowa and LSU, but also suffering back-to-back conference losses to Florida State and Duke. However, over their five-game winning streak, the Hokies had been looking more like a reigning Final Four team than they had all season.
Thursday night, Virginia Tech proved on the biggest stage that they are putting the pieces together and are ready to make another March Madness run as the No. 16 Hokies took down No. 3 NC State 72-61. The victory extended the Hokies' winning streak to six and their winning streak over the Wolfpack to four.
Both teams came out hot in the first quarter, with the Hokies taking a 21-19 lead into the first quarter break. Tech was led by 10 points from Elizabeth Kiltey, who made five of her first seven shots. Aziaha James, however, was going blow for blow with Kitley, totaling seven first quarter points on just four shot attempts.
As a team, NC State was getting to the hoop and into the mid-range off of one-on-one’s, where their ball handlers were burning the Hokie defenders. Because of this, the Hokies countered by switching to a two-three zone, a defense that forces an offense to move the ball around and hit shots rather than let players get in isolation. The Hokies switched back and forth between man-to-man and zone defense for the rest of the game, holding NC State to below 40% from the field in each of the last three quarters.
While the isolation may have worked out for NC State in the first quarter, it was largely ineffective for the rest of the game. The Wolfpack finished the game with a staggeringly low four assists, to go along with 10 turnovers. The Hokies on the other hand threw 18 dimes, while turning the ball over 12 times.
Georgia Amoore was responsible for 10 of their 18 assists, in a game where she was just two rebounds away from a triple-double. What makes her performance even more impressive is the fact that she did it against a defense completely focusing on taking the ball out of her hands. When man-to-man clearly didn’t work in the first half, NC State opted to run a box in one defense with Saniya Rivers, who is third in the ACC in steals per game, face guarding Amoore as soon as she crossed half court.
The defensive attention on Amoore led to easy three point looks from Cayla King and Matilda Ekh, which they knocked down, helping Virginia Tech start the second half on a 13-3 run, and forcing NC State to revert back to man-to-man defense for the rest of the game. Amoore has been on a tear as of late, either scoring 20 points or dropping 10 assists in each of the last five games. The reigning ACC Tournament MVP just knows how to turn up her game at the right time, and there is no better time than February as the Hokies are once again ramping up for a deep tournament run.
Elizabeth Kitley also had a fantastic game, dropping 25 points on 12 of 24 shooting to go along with 13 rebounds, which Kenny Brooks joked was a “ho hum” performance due to her dominance over the last three seasons, almost numbing basketball fans of how great she is night in and night out. Kitley is coming off of two-straight ACC Player of the Year seasons, and her third trophy seems to be in store as she has increased her already ridiculous stats from last season from 18 points and 11 rebounds to 22 points and 12 rebounds per game.
Kitley and Amoore’s chemistry has also gotten better year after year, specifically their pick and roll, which head coach Kenny Brooks compared to legenday 1990s Utah Jazz duo “(John) Stockton and (Karl) Malone''.
However, the biggest difference between this game and the last time these two teams faced off was the supporting cast around Kitley and Amoore. A month ago, everyone not named Kitley or Amoore only combined for 15 points. This game, the rest of the team scored 35 including 27 points and eight three-pointers from sharpshooters Matilda Ekh and Cayla King. Ekh, specifically, has picked up her play over the last six games averaging 13 points per game on over 40% from three point land.
Virginia Tech is almost unstoppable when Cayla King and Matilda Ekh are hitting shots as they get many open looks due to the gravity of Elizabeth Kitley in the post, and Georgia Amoore attacking the basket from the perimeter.
Finally, perhaps the biggest reason for Virginia Tech winning this game was their dominance on the glass against the ninth ranked rebounding team in the country. The Hokies outrebounded the Wolfpack 48-31, including grabbing 15 offensive rebounds.
Per usual, Kitley led the team on the glass with 13 rebounds, but everyone else chipped in as Georgia Amoore, Matilda Ekh, and Clara Strack all got at least seven boards. The way the Hokies were able to get offensive rebounds and win 50-50 balls down the stretch helped them truly put the game out of reach for NC State.
Despite the loss, NC State got good performances from Aziaha James, Madison Hayes, and Saniya Rivers. James was nearly unstoppable early on, scoring all 17 of her points in the first half. Hayes ended up leading the Wolfpack in scoring with 20 points and seven rebounds, while Rivers had arguably the best all-around performance on the team, scoring an efficient 12 points, to go along with six rebounds, three steals, and two assists.
The Hokies return to action on Sunday at 1pm at home versus Boston College, as the look to extend their win streak to seven. The Wolpack have a quick turnaround, traveling to Indiana to face the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at noon on Sunday in another top 20 matchup.