Elizabeth Kitley leads Va. Tech by Ohio State, into Final Four

March 28, 2023, 1:59 AM

SEATTLE -- For the first time ever, "Enter Sandman" will play the Virginia Tech Hokies all the way to the Final Four.

After beating the Ohio State Buckeyes 84-74 in Monday's Seattle region 3 final, the Hokies danced together at center court to the Metallica song that is the unofficial theme of the Virginia Tech athletic department, players and coaches celebrating an achievement that seemed unthinkable when coach Kenny Brooks arrived in Blacksburg in 2016 with the program having gone a decade without even making the NCAA tournament.

"It took a leap of faith, a lot of hard work, a lot of coaches' efforts, kids -- these kids up here really changed the culture," Brooks said afterward. "And it's funny, because when I talked [in] my presser when [athletic director Whit Babcock] hired me, I got a little overzealous, and it was right after when Syracuse went to the final game and I said, 'If Syracuse can do it, well, why can't we?'

"And it was great. People erupted, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. And I thought I stuck my foot in my mouth. But seven years later, here we are."

In 2021, with three of this year's starters in the same roles, the Hokies reached the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2006. They got back last year, but even with a more experienced team, a Final Four run seemed improbable this soon. Before the season, Virginia Tech's public goal was a Sweet 16 appearance -- something the school had done only once previously.

Somewhere in the midst of a winning streak that has now reached 15 games, second-longest in the nation after South Carolina's year-plus without a loss, the Hokies realized they could dream bigger. After winning the ACC tournament by beating two teams that also reached the Elite Eight (Louisville and Miami), Virginia Tech earned a No. 1 seed only to be overshadowed by historic women's basketball powers UConn and Tennessee in the same region.

Having beaten the Vols in the Sweet 16, the Hokies succeeded where the Huskies failed on Saturday against Ohio State's fearsome full-court press. After pressing on five early plays -- four of which turned into Virginia Tech scores, according to ESPN Stats & Information tracking -- the Buckeyes used it just three times over the next two quarters Monday.

"We knew going into the game that if we handled the press well, that they would back off a little bit," Hokies forward Taylor Soule said, "and so kudos to everybody for helping out and doing that. Georgia [Amoore], I don't know how you do it, man. I just -- I honestly sit back in the backcourt and just watch what you do in awe."

Although Amoore was at the center of Virginia Tech's press-breaking offense, along with scoring 24 points to earn regional most outstanding player honors, Brooks gave credit to his entire rotation -- all six of whom joined him at the postgame news conference -- for executing by screening to create room for Amoore to dribble around and through Ohio State's defenders.

Even with the Hokies neutralizing their press, the Buckeyes still led much of the second quarter thanks to strong shot-making from fifth-year senior guard Taylor Mikesell. In her final game at Ohio State, Mikesell went 5-of-6 on 3s in the first half as the Buckeyes shot 64% as a team.

After halftime, that flipped. Virginia Tech limited Ohio State to 8-of-29 (28%) shooting and got a combined 31 second-half points from Amoore -- whose 20 3s matched Kia Nurse in 2017 for the most by a player through four tournament games, per ESPN Stats & Information -- and center Elizabeth Kitley, who recorded a double-double of 25 points and 12 rebounds.

Brooks' players appreciate everything he's done for the program.

"The places that he's taken it compared to where it was at when he inherited it is just insane," Kitley said. "I'm just so happy to be a part of that and to be able to witness all the hard work that he puts into us and the coaching staff and everything.

"He just has crafted everything and stuck by his vision and what he wanted no matter what other people had to say or whatever. I think that's so valuable in a leader, and we wouldn't be where we are without that mindset from him."

The next place the Hokies will be taking their program is Dallas for a Final Four matchup Friday against LSU. Virginia Tech will be hoping to hear more celebratory "Enter Sandman" after that game.

"In the summertime we play 'Enter Sandman' in our house and we just run around and just start jumping up and down," Brooks said, "because it's a part of Virginia Tech. And the fact that we can bring joy to Virginia Tech, to Hokie Nation, that song comes on, it means everything. It means everything."