Photo Credit: Dave Knachel/Virginia Tech Athletics
Virginia Tech’s women’s basketball team could not put the finishing touches together on Sunday, falling to Duke 72-67 in overtime at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
“We’ve got to play better basketball consistently, not just in waves,” Virginia Tech head coach Kenny Brooks said. “That’s been one of our issues this year… we all have to step up. I have to step up and do a better job of directing them and everyone else has to come ready to play on a more consistent level.”
After Duke (8-8, 2-3) got off to a hot start in the first quarter, Virginia Tech (12-4, 2-3) made it a five-point game at halftime, trailing 36-31. The Hokies regained the lead late in the third quarter and extended the lead to nine with seven minutes to play in the fourth, but Duke responded.
The Blue Devils went on a 13-4 run to end the fourth quarter and sent the game into overtime, where they outscored the Hokies 7-2. That 20-6 run over the last twelve minutes led Duke to victory.
“I thought we were very tentative later where in the beginning we were attacking,” Brooks said. “They’re still trying to figure out who’s going to take that shot, who’s going to penetrate, who’s going to do things of that nature. I thought we had a stretch where Taja got a little bit tired and she was deferring. In those situations, she’s the one that has to go downhill for us.”
Cole led the way for Virginia Tech on Sunday with 15 points, ten rebounds and five assists.
The graduate senior from Richmond said the team lacked focus, like Brooks said they did on Thursday against Pittsburgh.
“I think some of us were locked in but when you’re dealing with being on the road and dealing with the team, you’re going to need everyone to be locked in,” Cole said. “I definitely think we could’ve been more focused than we were today.”
The Hokies turned the ball over 18 times, with Cole attributing that more to the lack of focus within the team instead of the defensive pressure.
“I think our turnovers come from us,” Cole said. “I’m pretty honest with people and if somebody made us turn the ball over, I would give it to them but right now, I think it’s the focus we talked about… I think focus would take care of those turnovers.”
Duke capitalized off Tech’s mistakes, scoring 27 points off the Hokies’ turnovers. The Blue Devils recorded eleven steals, five of which from junior forward Jade Williams.
Tech forced 13 total turnovers and defended the Blue Devils well in the second and third quarters. Duke responded in the fourth, though, as Mikayla Boykin went on a quick 6-0 run that cut Tech’s lead to one.
Brooks wasn’t surprised about the quick burst from Boykin that ignited the Blue Devils, citing her high school All-American accolades.
“You know what she’s capable of,” Brooks said. “It’s just a matter of time before she’s going to hit her stride. She hit some big shots.”
Boykin finished with 14 points. Combine her contributions with Haley Gorecki’s 17 points and 12 rebounds and Miela Goodchild’s 14 points and Duke was hard to stop offensively.
The Hokies had their opportunities, though. Brooks said he thought many shots were ones Tech normally makes, they just didn’t go in. That’s partially why Dara Mabrey and Aisha Sheppard combined for 22 points and 4-17 shooting from behind the arc.
“I think we just didn’t capitalize on the shots we normally make,” Coach Brooks said. “When Dara and Aisha, two of our better shooters, go 4-17 from three, it’s going to be a struggle for us because that’s something we rely on. We didn’t get that tonight.”
The Hokies also had an opportunity with less than 20 seconds to play and the game on the line.
Brooks called timeout and drew up a play for Tech to run, but the ball ended up in the hands of freshman Cayla King with four seconds to go. King had an open look from three but her shot was just off, bouncing out of bounds off a Duke player.
With 0.7 seconds to play, Tech ran an inbound play to Mabrey in the corner, but her attempt did not fall, sending the game to overtime tied at 65.
Brooks said that the play was not drawn up for King and the Hokies did not get the shot they wanted, though he was satisfied with the opportunity Tech ended up with.
“We didn’t get the shot we wanted a lot,” Brooks said. “We wanted Taja [Cole] to go downhill but if you told me, walking in, that the game would be tied and Cayla King is shooting a shot at the buzzer, uncontested, I would’ve taken that 10 out of 10 times. It wasn’t the way I drew it up, but I was happy with the result of getting that opportunity.”
Gorecki and Boykin sealed the deal for the Blue Devils in overtime, closing out the game from the foul line.
Remember the lack of focus that Taja Cole mentioned? Kenny Brooks mentioned that too, replying with “nope” when asked if there was focus.
“I thought Taja Cole was tremendous,” Brooks said. “I thought she got a little bit tired there at the end, but she had to do a little too much on both ends of the floor… I was very pleased with Elizabeth Kitley, who has been trying to find her way and just understand how people are playing her… Other than those two, I didn’t think we had it consistently throughout the basketball game.”
Kitley, the 6’5” freshman from Summerfield, North Carolina, recorded 21 points and nine rebounds in her home state on Sunday, making 8 of 11 shots from the field. After quieter performances against North Carolina (six points) and Pittsburgh (five points), Kitley’s presence was huge in the paint for Tech against Duke.
Brooks said he thought Kitley came out and played with tremendous intensity and focus, but said she’s not hitting her stride yet, hinting that there’s more to come.
“No, she’s not [playing some of her best basketball right now],” Brooks said. “That’s how much confidence I have in that kid. You guys haven’t even seen everything she can do… It’s just a matter of her getting comfortable. Once she figures out how good she really is, it’s going to be crazy. You couldn’t ask for a better opportunity, a better prospect for us, and I think she’s going to be one of the better players to ever play at Virginia Tech.”
After Sunday’s game, Kitley is averaging 11.4 points per game and 6.9 rebounds per game. She’s scored in double figures in eight of her sixteen games in Blacksburg while shooting 56 percent from the field. She’s also been one rebound away from a double double on three separate occasions, which shows dangerous she will be in the future.
The Hokies received five points off the bench from Cayla King (3) and Trinity Baptiste (2). Lydia Rivers, who averages 6.5 points per game, started and scored four. Tech did not receive any points from Taylor Geiman, who saw seven minutes off the bench before leaving the game in the second quarter with an injury to her left knee. Brooks was unsure of the severity of the injury postgame.
Tech can’t hang their head, though. As Cole said postgame, it’s time to bounce back.
“I think we’ve got some time to focus and to lock back in and take some time off,” Cole said. “We’ve been on the road a good bit… This time it’s going to be a turning point. It’s that point in the league when you get games after games and everyone’s taking losses, taking wins… I think we need to take this time and really key in and figure out what we want to be the rest of the year.”
Between Cole and fellow graduate transfer Lydia Rivers, they’ve seen plenty of experience. Cole made her way to Blacksburg from Georgia, where she led the Bulldogs to two NCAA Tournament appearances. Rivers trekked to Blacksburg up Prices Fork Road, where she played at Radford and led the Highlanders to the Big South Championship. Cole said the two of them have done a good job explaining those experiences to the younger players on the team.
“It’s letting the younger kids know that this point in time is very important,” Cole said. “The wins that we’re supposed to get, we have to get. In the big games where we have to lock in and focus, we have to be focused… With this group, I can’t see us not focusing and not getting better the rest of the way. We just have to lock in.”
With the rotation of the 15-team league schedule, Virginia Tech does not play until next Sunday when they travel to Charlottesville. The Hokies are determined to rebound from the loss and prepare for the next challenge ahead.
“We just have to make sure that confidence doesn’t wane,” Brooks said. “That and shore up some things and I think we’ll be fine.”