BLACKSBURG – The Virginia Tech women’s basketball team fought back from a 15-point halftime deficit against No. 3 Duke to make its game against the Blue Devils at Cassell Coliseum on Sunday afternoon a one-possession contest. However, as the Hokies have in their first three ACC games as well, they were not able to come away with a victory and fell to Duke, 74-70.
The Hokies, who dropped to 10-7, 0-4 in the ACC, were led by Uju Ugoka’s 29 points and 11 rebounds, her ninth double-double of the season, while Vanessa Panousis had 21 points and Monet Tellier added 18 points, seven rebounds and five assists. Duke, who is now 18-1, 5-0 in the league, had four players in double figures led by Tricia Liston’s 22 points.
“I thought our girls played really hard and I thought they played well,” Tech head coach Dennis Wolff said. “Obviously, (Duke) is a very good team, a talented team. They had us down, but we kept our composure through the end of the first half and then the kids made a lot of plays in the second half to put us in a position where we thought we could win the game.”
The Blue Devils came out and quickly established control of the game, building their largest lead of 15 points midway through the first half.
Tech would settle in and behind back-to-back 3-point baskets by Panousis, who made five in the contest, the Hokies trailed by just eight, 29-21, with 2:11 left before the break.
“I think, early in the game, I didn’t sense that we were afraid, but I feel we were a little anxious on offense,” Wolff said. “I think once the butterflies got out, each of these kids (Tellier, Ugoka and Panousis) made some shots then they relaxed and there were a lot of really good plays made.
“Then, we were able, in most cases, to get shots that we wanted and I think that’s important against them, because they are so talented that if you allow them to speed you into shots that you’re not comfortable with then they’re running the ball down your throat.”
Duke would close out the half on a 9-2 run to make it a 15-point advantage again. They maintained that double-figure lead until the Hokies used their own 11-1 run midway through the second half to cut their deficit to three.
Ugoka started the stretch with back-to-back baskets, Panousis continued it with five points and Tellier converted on two free throws to make it 48-45 with 10:43 left. Tech hit 15 of 17 from the foul line in the game to keep the contest close.
“I think (in the second half), we just stuck to the game plan and we weren’t scared of them. We were confident and we didn’t play on the back foot,” Panousis said. “And our defense is what helped us as well.”
Duke pushed its lead back to 12 points and actually led by 10 with 47 seconds left, but Ugoka hit a three – she is 3 for 3 in her career from behind the arc – and after Duke’s Alexis Jones went 1 of 2 at the foul line, Ugoka converted on a lay-up and was fouled.
She made the free throw and another layup – after Taijah Campbell stole a Duke pass – and Tech trailed by three, 71-68, with 14 seconds left.
“I’ve been in games like this when they're the favored team, the longer the game goes and the longer we hang in, the more the pressure reverts to the team that’s suppose to win,” Wolff said. “From a coaching aspect, all I kept saying (to the team) was, that we need to get it to 10 and then see where it goes from there.”
Duke, who hit just 12 of 22 free throws in the game, hit 3 of their last 4 to survive and register with the victory.
“Just like we’ve said from Day One, we have a good team, unfortunately we don’t have an ACC win to show for it,” Tellier said. “But we are going to continue to fight and continue to approach the games the same way.”
Tech returns to the court to face Georgia Tech at Cassel Coliseum on Thursday night with tip slated for 7 p.m.
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