BLACKSBURG – It’s been common occurrences for the Virginia Tech women’s basketball team this year, seeing Uju Ugoka lead the team in both scoring and rebounding. In Sunday afternoon’s game against USC Upstate in Cassell Coliseum, the senior notched her fifth straight double-double of the season with 27 points and 13 rebounds in the Hokies’ 65-61 victory.
The win did not come easy for Tech, though, as the team improved to 8-2 overall on the season. The Spartans, who are now 4-6, battled the home team through the first-half and pushed the Hokies all the way to the final buzzer.
“I thought the first half, we were stuck in mud,” Tech coach Dennis Wolff said. “It looked like a game being played during exams. They had 12 offensive rebounds at halftime and that’s what I talked to them about.
“I’m happy to win and we are never going to look down winning a game, but we had them down eight a couple of different times in the second half, but we weren’t really efficient on either end.
“I thought Uju, as her numbers dictate, played well and I thought Hannah (Young) made some plays at the end, a win is a win and we are happy to move on.”
The first half was a taffy pull. Neither team held more than a two-possession advantage, while the lead changed hands four times and the game was tied four other times.
Entering the locker room, the Hokies found themselves trailing by one at 25-24, but after, their other senior leader Monet Tellier, quickly changed that. Held scoreless in the first, she got a steal on USC Upstate’s opening possession and drove in for a layup then hit a jumper on Tech’s next trip down court and made it a three-point game.
After the Spartans reclaimed the lead after scoring four straight, Ugoka scored five points in a Tech 8-0 run that gave the home team the lead for good. For Ugoka, who is just one of four players in the ACC averaging a double-double (19.4 ppg and 10.8 rpg), it was her seventh double-double of the season.
She becomes the first Tech player since Karen Garbis to have five straight games with a double-double, as Garbis accomplished the feat back in February 1978 and did it in six straight. The game also marked the fourth time this year she’s done it by scoring at least 20 points.
“I’m just playing hard,” Ugoka said. “I just keep playing like I’m used to playing. I don’t change things and just keep playing hard and the game will come. I just looked for open shots and take it, or just take it to the rim. I’m just playing more aggressive, no matter how the defense plays me.”
Despite leading by eight in the second half, Tech could not put the Spartans away. Time and again, USC Upsate would connect on back-to-back baskets only to see the Hokies push their lead back to at least four or six.
The same was the case in the final two minutes of the game, but this time the Hokies – who struggled from the free throw line (20 for 32 total) – made nothing but 7 of 10 free throws to put the game away as Vanessa Panousis (4-6) and Young (3-4) contributed the final points.
“The team dug down and made tough plays when we needed them at the end, but we didn’t have the same energy that we did last Saturday,” Wolff said in reference to the win over Michigan State on Dec. 7. “We’ve had the kids shooting a ton of free throws and that needs to be better.
“Had it been better, the game would have been way more comfortable. And we can be a better free-throw shooting team. But we have to step up and the good thing is that we did get to the line. That team play a packed-in defense and we were still able to get to the line.”
Young finished with 11 points and six rebounds while Taijah Campbell pulled down 12 boards, her fourth game in double figures for rebounds. Panousis and Tellier were held in check, as they combined for just 12 points, but managed to dish out a combined 10 assists with Tellier contributing a game-high six.
The Hokies will take the week off before taking a brief trip to Radford to face the Highlanders on Saturday, Dec. 21 at 1 p.m.
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