March 26, 2023 

Virginia Tech is going to face its big moment head on

“[Tonight] was a great opportunity for them to be nervous, and they weren’t.”

SEATTLE – Virginia Tech rounded out the narrative theme of the Sweet 16 with their 73-64 win over Tennessee at Climate Pledge Arena in Seattle on Saturday afternoon. The Hokies, like Iowa, Ohio State and Miami before them, will be taking their shot at a first-ever 2023 Final Four whether or not people thought they could do it.

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With stalwart programs like Connecticut, Stanford, Notre Dame, Baylor and Tennessee watching the rest of this tournament from home, Virginia Tech became the last in the regional semifinal round to don the “new kid” mantle, defeating the Lady Vols and earning their first appearance in the Elite Eight.

Taking a team where it’s never been before, doesn’t mean he doesn’t know how his team will handle it, said Virginia Tech coach Kenny Brooks. As it is, the Hokies are a No. 1 seed for the first time in program history coming off their first ACC Championship. Unprecedented isn’t a thing anymore. But being a No. 1 seed and feeling like an underdog still is.

“I know these kids,” Brooks said. “We are going to a spot that we’ve never been before, but their resiliency, their toughness, their competitive drive, their talent, that supersedes being nervous.

“[Tonight] was a great opportunity for them to be nervous, and they weren’t.”

Indeed they were not.

Not when they jumped out to an early 9-0 lead by clogging the paint and disrupting Tennessee’s interior standouts Rickea Jackson and Jordan Horston.

Not when All-American Elizabeth Kitley went out with two fouls and nearly 7:30 left in the second quarter – and their lead actually grew.

Not when the Lady Vols turned up the full-court defensive pressure and went on a 16-2 run in the fourth quarter and cut an 18-point lead down to 51-49 with 7:20 to go in the game, a veritable basketball eternity.

Virginia Tech countered with a 15-4 run that brought the game under control and took the Vols out of their desperation defense.

It was Australian guard Georgia Amoore, not Kitley, who set the tone for an Elite Eight berth with a career-high 28 points, cementing that this team has never been just about Kitley. Brooks played just six players in the game, and Kayana Traylor, the Purdue transfer, finished with 14 points, while Kitley pitched in with 12.

Brooks has been telling Amoore all year that she is the most important player on the floor.

“I tell her, ’You’re the best player on the floor. Go act like it. Go prove it. Go prove it.’” Brooks said. “I’ve often said that Liz is probably our best player, but Georgia’s our most important. And she understands that. She’s only doing now what we see all the time. When the kids have to go out and guard her, they really tighten up their shoestrings because they know that there’s something that can happen. She’s as good as anybody in the country, in my opinion. She’s playing with the utmost confidence and she’s been playing like this ever since we started this stretch, and she’s a big reason why we are here.”

Here in the Elite Eight. Uncharted territory. New, more intense territory. Everything you think you brought to the first three games of this tournament amplifies exponentially now.

The Elite Eight is a special kind of torture in the NCAA Tournament. Your team is one win away from the Final Four. Some of the most intense games in tournament history have come in the Elite Eight.
And Virginia Tech’s team is going to have to contend with the very thing that gave them trouble on Saturday – an intense press that is Ohio State’s bread-and-butter. The press that broke UConn, sending the Huskies home before the Elite Eight for the first time since 2005.

“I think all that matters is how you handle it if we’re able to beat the pressure and make ’em pay for it,” Brooks said. “I think too many times they pressure you, and you just beat it and then set up your offense … that’s a moral victory for them as well. So we got to be aggressive. We got to be smart, but be aggressive, get downhill, break the pressure, and get some easy opportunities, and I think that that will kind of ease it up a little bit. But they have been doing it all year long. They’re really good at it… We know it’s going to be an issue.”

Brooks states that like a fact. Like a coach who has confidence that his team can handle it. Saturday’s postgame celebration was more businesslike than unbridled, carried off like a team that expected to be here. Carried off like a team that knows other people didn’t expect them to be here, even with a No. 1 seed before their name. The people who picked against them, the stories about a Tennessee-Connecticut regional final that isn’t going to happen, are still going to fuel the Hokies.

“It’s motivated us more than anything,” Amoore said. ‘I’m grateful we’ve taken from it and we’ve lit a spark to fire up our butts.”

Now the biggest moment of them all, the promised land a mere 40 minutes, likely 40 brutal minutes, away.

“I don’t think the moment will be too big for them,” Brooks said. “I just think that we’re going to go out and we’re going to win. We know we’re playing against Ohio State, who is a fantastic basketball team, but I don’t think we’ll win or lose because the moment is too big. They just understand the assignment. They go out, they execute, as Kayana Traylor said. They just love playing for each other, and I think that that’s what they will do on Monday.”

Written by Michelle Smith

Michelle Smith has covered women's basketball nationally for nearly three decades. Smith has worked for, The Athletic, the San Francisco Chronicle, as well as and She was named to the Alameda County Women's Hall of Fame in 2015, is the 2017 recipient of the Jake Wade Media Award from the Collegiate Sports Information Directors Association (CoSIDA) and was named the Mel Greenberg Media Award winner by the WBCA in 2019.

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