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Virginia Tech women's basketball team to look inside

Virginia Tech women's basketball team to look inside

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The Virginia Tech women's basketball team will be doing "a 180" with its offensive approach this season.

The Hokies will emphasize throwing the ball inside instead of launching 3-pointers.

"You might not recognize us. We've done a 180," said coach Kenny Brooks, whose team will open the season Wednesday against visiting Richmond. "We're just a little bit more deliberate. I can't believe that's coming out of my mouth.

"We want to go fast, … want to shoot the 3. We just won't be as reliant on the 3 as we have been. We're going to be looking for more efficiency, throwing the ball inside, … getting points in the paint.

"Instead of the high flying, get it up and down the court, look for the 3 in transition — we will look for that at times, but we will be more deliberate because we have two great post players."

The Hokies ranked second in the ACC last season with an average of 7.6 3-point baskets. But Brooks adopted a get-the-ball-inside approach late in the season because of the emergence of center Elizabeth Kitley, who was named last season's ACC freshman of the year.

Brooks wants Kitley to be "the focal point" of the offense this year.

"I've never seen a kid improve from Year 1 to Year 2 as much as she has," Brooks said. "She's going to have a tremendous year."

The 6-foot-5 Kitley, who averaged 12.5 points and 7.5 rebounds last season, is looking forward to her expanded role.

"One of the main things that I've improved on is my confidence this year, so I'm … ready to have more responsibility," she said.

Brooks also wants to get the ball inside because of the presence of Asiah Jones, who sat out last season after transferring from Southern California. The 6-3 Jones will be the new starting power forward.

"Jones is just as talented inside [as Kitley]," Brooks said. "She scores in a variety of ways. She's athletic. She's bouncy.

"So our offense looks a lot different."

Jones, who graduated from a South Carolina high school, averaged 4.7 points and 14.2 minutes as a third-year sophomore backup for Southern Cal two seasons ago.

"Didn't really play as much as I wanted," she said. "It just wasn't the best fit for me basketball-wise."

The fifth-year senior said sitting out at Tech last season helped her.

"I had a lot of time to really work on my game," Jones said.

Kitley ranked second in the ACC in blocked shots last year, but Brooks expects Jones will lead the Hokies in blocks this year.

"My favorite thing to do, honestly, is to block shots," Jones said.

Brooks expects Tech will be better defensively this year.

"When you have Liz … and Asiah Jones, … they erase a lot of the [defensive] mistakes that can be made," he said.

The Hokies still boast one of the ACC's top 3-point threats.

Senior guard Aisha Sheppard, who ranked second in the league in 3-pointers (84) and ninth in scoring (14.8 ppg), is back. She made the All-ACC second team in March.

"I definitely need to be more assertive in the shots that I take," Sheppard said.

Sheppard joined Kitley on the 10-woman preseason All-ACC team this month.

The Hokies went 21-9 last year, when they finished with a winning ACC record for the first time (11-7) and tied for fourth place in the league.

They were a safe bet to make the NCAA tournament for the first time in 14 years, but the tournament was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.

"It's a great motivating factor that we weren't able to hear our name called," Brooks said. "We feel like we could be better than we were last year."

"It's definitely made us want it even more," Kitley said. "Even though we lost a lot [from] last year, we think that we've gained even more and we'll definitely be back."

Tech must replace four of the top six players on last year's team:

• Point guard Taja Cole averaged 9.6 points and a league-high 6.5 assists as a graduate transfer. She made the ACC all-defensive team.

• Power forward Lydia Rivers averaged 6.4 points and a team-high 8.1 rebounds as a graduate transfer. She and Cole also helped Tech with their leadership.

• Guard Dara Mabrey (11.9 ppg, 75 3-pointers) transferred to Notre Dame.

• Reserve forward Trinity Baptiste (9.5 ppg, 6.4 rpg), who was named the ACC sixth player of the year, transferred to Arizona.

"As far as [replacing] the production, honestly, we feel like that's not going to be an issue," Brooks said.

But Tech does not yet boast the chemistry of last year's squad.

"It's been difficult, just the meshing part, just because of the [COVID-19] protocols," Brooks said. "We're asking them to be very careful and to isolate as much as possible away from basketball, so they're not able to really know each other on a personal level, which would help on the basketball court.

"We will be a work in progress for quite a bit throughout this year. … The saving grace for us is that we're talented."

Tech was picked seventh in the ACC's preseason poll this month.

"We should be higher than that," Brooks said.

Georgia Amoore, a freshman from Australia, will be the new point guard.

"Amoore is going to be dynamite," Brooks said. "She's our second-best 3-point shooter behind Aisha Sheppard.

"She's going to be like Brett Favre a little bit — she's going to throw that thing all over the place. But she's also going to throw some touchdown passes. And we're going to live with that … because she does offer something that we desperately need — that scoring point guard."

Amoore enrolled at Tech last January. She sat out the rest of the season, but she did practice with the Hokies.

"Coming in here early really helped me," she said. "I got a chance to see everyone play."

Cayla King, a sophomore, is the front-runner to replace Mabrey.

"She's a knock-down 3-point shooter if you leave her open, so she's going to help stretch the defense and keep people off of Liz," Brooks said.

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Mark Berman covers Virginia Tech men’s basketball and many other teams at the university. He also helps cover other colleges, including Radford, VMI, Roanoke, Washington and Lee and Ferrum.

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