Virginia Tech women’s basketball (21-7, 11-6 ACC) earned a big conference win Thursday night over the Duke Blue Devils (17-11, 11-6 ACC). The 70-56 win snaps a six-game winning streak for the Blue Devils.
The first time these two teams met, the game went to overtime after the Blue Devils went off on a 13-4 run to end regulation. Duke would ultimately take that game 72-67, and have since been one of the hottest teams in the ACC.
“We were a different basketball team then; we were still young,” said head coach Kenny Brooks. “We were still trying to figure out ourselves in ACC play, and we built the lead and we stopped playing.”
In this game, both teams came out firing before the first media timeout, with the Hokies holding an 11-9 lead. Taja Cole was the star of the show for the Hokies early, scoring four points and assisting on two buckets.
Center Elizabeth Kitley also turned in an impressive first quarter, scoring six points off three-of-five shooting. Kitley’s dominance in the paint has been a staple for the Hokies all season, and it was no different here.
With a little over five minutes left in the second quarter, the Hokies managed to create a 10-point separation as well as some much-needed momentum thanks to a tough rebound from Lydia Rivers that led to a fast-break corner three from Trinity Baptiste. Rivers was surrounded by three Blue Devil jerseys after she grabbed the board, but somehow managed to get the ball in the hands to Cole, who pushed the ball quickly up the court and found a wide-open Baptiste to push Tech’s lead up to 26-16. The Hokies would take a 37-25 lead as the first half concluded.
For most of the first half, the Hokies looked like the better team offensively, shooting 56% during the half compared to the Blue Devils’ 38.5% shooting.
Kitley’s strong first quarter carried over into the second quarter, where she finished with 14 of the team’s 37 first-half points. Her ability to box out smaller defenders in the post was a key reason the Hokies were able to find success around the basket, and why Tech outscored Duke 22-8 in the paint.
One of Tech’s toughest challenges going into this game was neutralizing Duke’s star player Haley Gorecki, who had a 17-point, 12-rebound double-double in the last meeting. The second-best scorer in the ACC has averaged 19 points per game during the team’s six-game winning streak, but was mostly off-the-mark in the first half due to some strong defense from Cayla King and Taja Cole; Gorecki shot just three-of-nine in the first half for seven points.
"The defensive job that (Cole) did on Haley Gorecki was intentional, but was phenomenal,” head coach Brooks said. “Haley Gorecki is probably the most talented player in our league; you just have to try to shut her down and make it hard for her, and I thought she did that."
The second half provided a different story. The Hokies struggled coming out of the gate, and were held to just two points in the first five minutes of the third quarter.
Benefitting from Tech’s struggles, Duke was able to bring its deficit within six with 4:38 left in the third. Gorecki was also able to get going a little more in this quarter, scoring six points.
Duke ended up outscoring Tech 18-13 in the quarter, and had the lead down to as close as four points, but Tech was able to do just enough to ward off an early comeback. Baptiste was particularly strong, scoring five points for the Hokies. Also, Cole was able to bury a 3-pointer in the right corner before time expired to give Tech a seven-point lead going into the fourth.
In the fourth quarter, the Hokies were able to break out another double-digit lead thanks to some much-needed sharpshooting from Aisha Sheppard, who had been unusually quiet just days after her career-best performance against UVA on Sunday; Sheppard’s two threes helped put Tech up 58-45 with 6:10 left in the game.
After that, Duke never looked like a threat to challenge the lead again, and the Hokies were able to cruise to a 70-56 win in the team’s last game at Cassell this season. Kitley led all scorers with 19 points on the night while Leaonna Odom led Duke with 16 points.
The Hokies will close out the regular season against No. 5 Louisville on Sunday, March 1, at noon.
“Big win for us –– we’re very excited. We will enjoy it tonight, but we’ll be thinking about Louisville starting tomorrow,” coach Brooks said.