March 4, 2022
ACC notebook: Virginia Tech hobbled, but not halted by injuries
Plus, a look at Elissa Cunane's numbers in Greensboro.
GREENSBORO, N.C. – No Cayla King. No Elizabeth Kitley.
It didn’t matter for the Virginia Tech Hokies in either of their first two ACC Tournament games – wins over Clemson and North Carolina – but it could cost them as March goes along.
That’s why Kenny Brooks is being extra careful in how he manages his two hobbled starters. It’s unlikely that either will play for the remainder of the Hokies stay in Greensboro.
“Out of precaution, we decided not to play her,” Brooks said of Kitley on Friday. “It’s painful for her to lift it at the moment. We haven’t gotten her diagnosis of what’s going on with her yet, but she’s too valuable for us to try to put her back out there. She tried. And obviously, with hopes of an NCAA run and with some time and some rest, we didn’t want to further injure anything right now, so we want to make sure we get it checked out.”
Kitley – recently tabbed as the ACC Player of the Year – went down in the second quarter against North Carolina and was sort of bulldozed in a scramble for a loose ball. She reappeared on the bench in the second half but was wearing a warm-up shirt and what seemed to be a bulky brace of sorts on her left shoulder. Kitley had six points and two boards in 11 minutes of play.
“We’re going to be cautious with Liz, very cautious with her. I can’t listen to her because she’ll want to play,” Brooks said. “So, we have to make sure – we feel like we’ve positioned ourselves to make a nice strong run beyond the ACC Tournament, so we’re going do what’s best for her and her future.”
The Hokies went on to beat the Tar Heels in overtime, thanks to 44 combined points from Georgia Amoore and Aisha Sheppard. Amoore hit what seemed to be the game-winning shot in regulation, connecting on a lay-up in traffic, then sinking a foul shot with a little more than two seconds to play.
Brooks’ said Amoore’s shot wasn’t a play, but rather “backyard basketball.”
Brooks said he told Amoore: “You’re going to go here, you’re going to fake it, you’re going to turn it, you’re going to go get a blank-blank bucket.”
Amoore did just that. It is assumed that Brooks did not actually say “blank-blank” but perhaps some other choice words from the English language.
King played just nine minutes in Virginia Tech’s win over Clemson on Thursday and seemed to suffer an apparent ankle injury.
“It’s probably severe enough watching her hobble. I think she was walking out on crutches, so we don’t anticipate getting her back tomorrow,” Hokies’ head coach Kenny Brooks Thursday. “You’re not going to replace Cayla King and what she brings to us. She’s like my security blanket, and she does so many things on the defensive end knocks down timely shots. She’s a great connector. We value her.”
King was wearing a boot on her right foot while sitting on the bench Friday as the Hokies beat North Carolina.
Brooks seemed optimistic that King’s injury wouldn’t be a long-term one, hoping to have her back for the NCAA Tournament. King has started in every game for the Hokies this year and has the second-best 3-point shooting mark on the team at 41.1%. She’s also third on the team in steals with 21.
Despite the key injuries the Hokies have suffered, they aren’t slowing down. They’re happy that they’ve simply come this far. Even without Kitley and King, Brooks and the players’ eyes are on a third meeting with N.C. State. At stake is a trip to the ACC Tournament final.
“I told Wes (Moore), I’ll see you at the tournament,” Brooks said. “With my group, I’m just extremely proud of them. We’ve had a change of culture, and they walk out there and they expect to win.”
Amoore, after playing a team-high 45 minutes vs. UNC added: “I mean, it’s the tournament. It would be selfish of us to go out there and not give everything we’ve got.
“As to left in the tank, I’ve got plenty.”
Boston College, FSU, Miami believe they belong
The Boston College Eagles’ stay in Greensboro was a short-lived one, as they lost 58-63 to Florida State in the second round on Thursday. After the game though, head coach Joanna Bernabei-McNamee was confident that her Eagles had done enough to make the NCAA Tournament.
“We’re a little hurt, we’re disappointed, but one thing I know for sure is I think they solidified a spot in the NCAA Tournament, and that’s really what we wanted to make sure we came here and did,” she said. “I do believe this is a tournament team, and I hope that the NCAA’s selection committee feels the same way.”
In the latest projections at ESPN, posted Friday, Boston College was Charlie Creme’s “First Team Out” for the tournament field. They are currently 19-11 and 9-8 in ACC play in Bernabei-McNamee’s fourth year on the job.
Boston College is the only ACC team that thinks it belongs though, as both Florida State and Miami believe they should be dancing in a few weeks as well.
“Any win in this conference is huge and we put ourselves in a position in late February to be a team that – I mean, I don’t have any question that we belong in the big dance, and this win proves it,” Miami coach Katie Meier said after the Canes’ second-round win over Duke. “Any win you get in this tournament to me proves your worth, proves that you’re one of the top 68 teams in the country.”
Creme currently projects Miami a few spots ahead of Boston College, as an 11th seed among the Last Four Byes. In Meier’s 17th season in Coral Gables, the Canes are 18-11 and 10-8 in the ACC. They swept ranked Georgia Tech in the regular season, have a win over projected tourney team Tulane, and also played Indiana, Maryland and Louisville tightly, losing each of those games by single digits.
Following her team’s lopsided loss to N.C. State in the quarterfinals, FSU coach Sue Semrau had similar sentiments as Meier. When asked if she thought the Seminoles had done enough, she said, “Oh yea, I do.”
“We will get back to Tallahassee, take a couple days off and then we’ll get back after it, keep our rhythm, go back to fundamentals and make sure that we’re ready once our name is called,” Semrau said.
In Friday’s NET rankings, Florida State was 46th, Miami was 47th and Boston College was 49th.
Duke, meanwhile, is a longshot to make the NCAA Tournament field at this point. The Blue Devils are 54th in NET and lost six of their last eight games of the season.
When asked by The Next on Thursday night if Duke’s players wanted to play in a postseason tournament that wasn’t the NCAA’s – like the WNIT – Blue Devils’ freshman Shyanne Day-Wilson said, “Yeah, for sure. Another opportunity is never a bad opportunity, so I mean, if the opportunity presents itself, then we’re definitely probably going to take it.”
Junior Celeste Taylor added: “(We’ll) probably make that decision together as a team.”
Stat Blast: Queen of Greensboro
Elissa Cunane played her 10th collegiate game in the Greensboro Coliseum on Friday, tallying 15 points and six boards in just 22 minutes of play as her fourth-ranked N.C. State Wolfpack team ran Florida State off the floor.
A native of nearby Summerville, N.C., Cunane is now eyeing her third straight ACC Championship victory in the arena she grew up watching games at.
“Hometown girl, man. She plays well here,” Wolfpack coach Wes Moore said. “It goes back to – I don’t know how old she was, laying on the floor when she was a kid, doing snow angels and the balloons falling from the ceiling. So, I think that was good karma. Maybe she learned how to do well on that court.”
Cunane went to Northern Guilford, just 13 miles from the doors of the Greensboro Coliseum.
And nearly every time she’s played in this 63-year-old arena, Cunane has played well.
The 6’5 senior is 8-2 in games in the venue – that includes nine ACC Tournament games and one Sweet 16 game against Iowa in 2019. Across those games, Cunane averages 18.6 points, 7.7 rebounds, 1.8 assists and one block per game while shooting 55.2% from the floor.
If history is any indicator, Cunane will keep playing well in her last trip to Greensboro, which could end with N.C. State’s third-straight ACC title.
“It’s tournament time. Everyone wants to play better for tournament time,” Cunane said. “The next game is not guaranteed. Doesn’t matter what seed you are. So, we’ve just got to come out here and play every game like it’s our last.”