BLACKSBURG – In an attempt to join some elite company, the Virginia Tech women’s basketball team – except for two – came out flat against Richmond on Wednesday afternoon at Cassell Coliseum and saw its five-game win streak to start the season come to an end.
In the 64-56 loss to the Spiders, senior Uju Ugoka performed as well as anyone has for the Hokies in the past five years as she scored a game-high 27 points on 9 of 19 shooting and pulled down 17 rebounds to register her third double-double of the year. She added two blocks and two steals for good measure.
Freshman Vanessa Panousis poured in 19 points, the second-best output on the floor from either team, and had four assists, but the rest of the team combined for 3 of 32 shooting from the floor, which included missing all 14 3-point attempts, and scored just 10 points.
“All the credit goes to Richmond. They were tougher and deserved to win,” Tech coach Dennis Wolff said. “We acted really immature today, that’s how I saw it. We aren’t going to win when we have two kids play really well and no one else be involved to a degree in which they need to be involved in.
“We aren’t good enough to do that and we put ourselves in a bad position. The succession of easy misses over, over and over, gave Richmond confidence and frustrated us.”
Ugoka has now scored at least 20 points in three straight games, the longest such stretch in almost a decade – Ieva Kublina, Feb. 1-9, versus Providence (25), at Seton Hall (24) and versus Notre Dame (21). She also came within three points of matching Utahya Drye’s 30-point, 16-rebound performance against USC Upstate on Feb. 2, 2009.
She willed her team back from a double-figure second-half deficit to make it just a three-point game with under 7:00 left in the contest. However, the Spiders continued to get a timely basket to keep the Hokies just out of striking range.
“I think that just goes to our mental toughness,” Wolff said. “We were kind of playing, but not playing to win. We’d give them an easy look in the lane or not go over a ball screen and they’d hit a three at an inopportune time. Then we would go and rush plays.
“If we had been patient. Look at the numbers Uju had. And the other girls had shots, but there was just reluctance at some positions that I was just not happy with and we’ll have to clear that up.”
Trailing by six with 2:33 to go, Ugoka, who scored 14 of the team’s 26 points after the break, connected on 3 of 4 free-throw attempts to make it a three-point game again and pulled down a defensive rebound on the Spiders’ next possession to give the Hokies a chance to pull even closer.
However, a couple of missed baskets on the Tech end and made free throws on the other end by Richmond put the finishing touches on the Hokies first loss of the year.
The Spiders (2-4) had three players – Janelle Hubbard (15), Keri Soppe (12) and Genevieve Okoro (11) – reach double figures and two others add eight points each. They also saw their bench outscore the Hokies’ 20-4.
“We have to get back to what we have been doing,” Wolff said. “We are a good team and I still like this team a lot. We just have to get back to doing what we want to do … and hopefully we can play better on Saturday.”
Tech (5-1) was looking to become just the fourth team in program history to begin a season with six straight wins. The team was also looking to give Wolff his 300th career win as a head coach, but that will have to wait until at least Saturday when the Hokies face Presbyterian at Cassell Coliseum at 1 p.m.
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