Perhaps it is no coincidence that the Virginia Tech women’s basketball team’s 3-0 start to ACC play has come during the university’s winter break.
Since suffering back-to-back losses to Tennessee and Liberty, the Hokies (11-3 overall) have won four straight games. The first win in the streak — an 89-40 nonconference thrashing of Radford — came during final exams, albeit on a Sunday.
Four days after finals concluded, the Hokies won their ACC opener at Florida State to snap a nine-game skid in that series. Then came a rout of then-No. 15 Duke, followed by last weekend’s win at Wake Forest.
Hokies coach Kenny Brooks credits timing for the 3-0 ACC start. The end of finals freed his players to focus on basketball.
“We broke a record this past semester for the highest GPA [3.60] in Virginia Tech women’s basketball history,” said Brooks, whose team visits No. 19 North Carolina on Sunday. “A reason for that is because they really care about their grades and they lock in. And me as their coach, I have to allow that.
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“Elizabeth Kitley wants to be a doctor. Cayla King wants to be a doctor. Taylor Geiman wants to be a biomedical engineer. So they’re going to sacrifice, and they’re going to miss some time basketball-wise. And we understood that. And even though they were there [during the back-to-back losses], they weren’t there mentally. And there’s a lot of kids like that.
“We just really weren’t locked in and focused. And then as soon as exams were over with, they were able to lock in.”
Especially on defense.
“They’re smart. They sing out the scout. They know where people are going to go — ‘Hey, she’s coming here, going there,’” Brooks said.
Tech squashed Duke 77-55 last week for its most lopsided win ever against a ranked foe. The Hokies held Wake Forest to 53 points last weekend.
“We force you into areas that we want you to go into and then we contest your shot. And now the shot goes up, we rebound the basketball,” Brooks said. “That’s a pretty good recipe, especially when you get into ACC play. … So our defense has been good. It’s been really good.”
This is the first time Tech has started off 3-0 in league play since the Hokies won their first six Big East games in the 2001-02 season.
Kitley was just 1 of 12 from the field in the Dec. 5 loss to Tennessee and was 3 of 7 from the field against Liberty’s double teams two days later. But the junior center has responded with four straight double-doubles.
She was named the ACC player of the week after scoring 34 points, snaring 13 rebounds and blocking four shots in the Dec. 19 win at FSU. She was again named the ACC player of the week on Monday for her performances against Duke (27 points, 13 rebounds, three blocks) and Wake (13 points, 18 rebounds, five blocks).
“I have her back [from focusing on classes]. … Her exercises during the day [now] consist of watching film with me, practice and then she goes and reads a book,” Brooks said. “She doesn’t have to worry about anatomy. She doesn’t have to worry about chemistry lab right now. She’s a gym rat.
“I watch more film with her than I ever have with any other player — and I’m talking good or bad. I’m talking Liberty or Florida State. She wants to watch it — ‘How can I get better?’
“That right there is the reason why I think she’s the best player in this league.”
Kitley is the first woman to be named ACC player of the week four times in the first eight weeks of the season since Alana Beard in the 2002-03 season. On Wednesday, she was named to the midseason Top 25 watch list for the Wooden Award, which goes to the national player of the year.
Point guard Georgia Amoore has also shined during the 3-0 ACC start. She scored 20 points against both FSU and Duke and tallied 14 points at Wake.
The team’s other point guard, Purdue transfer Kayana Traylor, had just one basket in the Tennessee and Liberty losses combined but has scored in double figures the past four games. She has started the past two games in place of sidelined forward Azana Baines.
“She’s that kid who can go downhill and get us a basket and take some of the pressure off Liz or Georgia or [Aisha Sheppard],” Brooks said of Traylor. “Her and Georgia were a little bit slow [meshing] because they weren’t trying to step on each other’s toes. Now they’ve found a way to coexist, and I think they’re really good right now.”
UNC (13-1, 3-1) is coming off a 72-45 loss at No. 5 N.C. State on Thursday. The Tar Heels shot a season-low 23.1% from the field.