It's time for the Virginia Tech women's basketball team to have its moment in the "Big Monday" spotlight.
The 13th-ranked Hokies will play in one of ESPN2's "Big Monday" women's basketball telecasts for the first time when they visit 15th-ranked North Carolina State at 6 p.m. Monday.
"It just goes to show you the progress this program has made step by step," Tech coach Kenny Brooks said. "You're being recognized as one of the best programs.
"It's validation … of the hard work, but it's also validation that we're a good basketball team. … They put these [TV] schedules together before the season starts, and for them to recognize us before the season starts is a step forward."
The Tech women (18-4, 8-4 ACC) will be getting their showcase two weeks after the Tech men beat Duke in a "Big Monday" game on ESPN.
People are also reading…
"Kenny has spent his whole career getting ready for an opportunity like this," said Debbie Antonelli, who will be the ESPN2 analyst for Monday's game. "So have those players."
This will be ESPN2's third "Big Monday" women's game of the season, following Iowa-Ohio State two weeks ago and Tennessee-LSU last week.
"I was watching LSU and Tennessee and it just really hit me, just blindsided me. I'm like, 'Damn, we're going to be here next week on Big Monday,’" Brooks said.
This will be Tech's second time on ESPN2 this season. The team's Dec. 4 win at Tennessee was a Sunday afternoon game on ESPN2. That game marked the first time Tech played a regular-season game on national television since a January 2006 game at Miami aired on ESPNU.
Tech's Feb. 19 home rematch with State will also be on ESPN2. That will be a Sunday afternoon game.
Monday's visit to State will not only be a "Big Monday" game.
This will be State's annual "Play4Kay" game, in memory of the late State coach Kay Yow, who died of breast cancer in 2009. The game, which will be played in front of a sellout crowd at Reynolds Coliseum, will benefit the Kay Yow Cancer Fund. Spectators who are cancer survivors will be recognized at halftime.
"It's Play4Kay night, so this is an exceptionally different environment than anything Virginia Tech has ever experienced," Antonelli said. "It's something that N.C. State might feel a little more pressure because of. It is an incredible event. … It's an emotional night for N.C. State."
State beat Tech three times last year, including an ACC semifinal game that Tech center Elizabeth Kitley and Tech guard Cayla King missed with injuries. State swept the ACC regular-season and tournament titles and made the Elite Eight.
But the Wolfpack (16-6, 6-5) had to replace four starters from that team, including standout center Elissa Cunane.
"Not the same depth [as last year]. Not the same experience," Antonelli said. "Definitely more perimeter-oriented. … Trying to play a little faster, trying to play a little bit more defensive-minded. Struggling to score."
State is coming off a 68-62 loss at Georgia Tech. The team's other ACC losses were at home to Duke and Boston College and on the road to Florida State and North Carolina.
Virginia Tech is just 2-26 all-time against State, including 0-12 in Raleigh. The Hokies last beat State in January 2021; Cunane missed that game because of COVID-19 protocols.
The 6-foot-6 Kitley is averaging 18 points, 11 rebounds and 2.1 blocks. She was named Friday as one of the top 10 candidates for the Lisa Leslie Award, which goes to the best center in the nation.
State coach Wes Moore will try to defend Kitley with 6-foot-3 senior center Camille Hobby and her 6-5 backup, Florida State graduate transfer River Baldwin.
"He's mixed it up before, where they've played [Kitley] different ways," Brooks said. "But I'm … excited that we're probably going to get to play against some man-to-man."
Wolfpack guard Diamond Johnson is averaging a team-high 13.4 points.
"You have to keep her in front and make her make tough shots," Antonelli said. "You've got to find her in transition early."
The Hokies have won five of their last six games, with the lone loss in that span coming at Duke.
"One of the things we've been focusing on the last couple games is to be physical not only on the defensive end but the offensive end," Brooks said. "When we played against Duke, they put us on our heels and we weren't the aggressor. We've got to start playing downhill a little bit more and put the onus on the officials to call fouls in a physical basketball game. We've been doing a much better job in that aspect [the past two games]."
The Hokies are in a four-way tie for fourth place.
"Hopefully we can get some consistency," Brooks said. "I don't want [Kayana Traylor] to have 25 [points] one night and three the next. I don't want Cayla King to have zero one night and 19 the next."
Tech guard Ashley Owusu played only four minutes in Thursday's win over Syracuse. It was her fifth game back after suffering a broken pinkie.
"She's trying to work her way back into game shape," Brooks said. "She's trying to figure out where she fits in, not only on the offensive end but the defensive end. It's just kind of that stage of the year where you don't really want to take a step back in order to try to hopefully take two steps forward. … She just has to get comfortable on the defensive end and figure out what we're doing and she'll get her confidence back."