Hokies fall to top seed Louisville at ACC Tournament

Virginia Tech (18-13 (6-10 ACC)) 2613121970
(4) Louisville (30-2 (15-1 ACC)) 1716231773
  • the Greensboro Coliseum - Greensboro, NC - 3,297
  • High Points: 27 - Taylor Emery
  • High Rebounds: 7 - Regan Magarity

By Jimmy Robertson

GREENSBORO, N.C. – As Louisville head women’s basketball coach Jeff Walz walked into the postgame news conference following his team’s quarterfinal victory over Virginia Tech at the ACC Tournament on Friday afternoon, he felt more of a sense of relief than a sense of happiness.

After all, his Cardinals, with their sterling No. 1 seed, their pristine 30-2 record and their gaudy No. 4 ranking, barely escaped with a 73-70 victory over a gritty, stubborn, undermanned bunch from Blacksburg. Louisville advanced to the semifinals, while the Hokies, who fell to 18-13, headed home for a week of reflection before learning of their postseason fate March 12.

Walz thinks he knows where Tech’s destination should be.

“I really believe that they should be an NCAA Tournament team,” he said. “They’re playing extremely well right now, and I don’t think anyone would like to play them. I hope on Selection Monday that we see their name come up representing the ACC because there is no doubt that they would make some noise.”

That much may be true, but the likelihood is that the Hokies will be playing in the WNIT for the third straight year. They seemed resigned to it afterward, which probably explains the tears in the eyes of the wonderful Taylor Emery and Regan Magarity and the pained looks on head coach Kenny Brooks’ face following the game.

The ultimate competitor, Brooks wants to be in the NCAA Tournament. He went there six times in 11 seasons as the head coach at James Madison. NCAA Tournament bids are sweet nectar to college basketball coaches.

With respect to those who run the WNIT, there is no comparison between the two tournaments for coaches and players. It’s like wanting a banana split and getting a scoop of vanilla.

“For many reasons, I think it would be important for us to continue on and have some success in the WNIT, if that is the case,” Brooks said. “But it would be disappointing in a sense because we feel like our goals are the NCAA. I don’t want to discredit anyone else or try to make it sound like someone else is not worthy, but I just got to think … that we could be a tournament team because there are so many good teams in our league right now, and we just happen to be on the outside of that bubble.

“I think we’re one or two games away from solidifying a place in the NCAA Tournament. So just a little bit disappointed because I know that we’re worthy, but whatever the case, we’ll go and we’ll fight and we’ll prepare – and we’ll get better.”

Brooks’ tormented voice comes from knowing that the Hokies are close – real close – despite the obstacles that he and his assistant coaches and this team faced this season.

Consider the following. Their starting forward, Alexis Jean, missed seven games with a knee injury. Their shooting guard, Rachel Camp, was forced to play power forward.

They have no point guard on the roster right now. Their point guard, Chanette Hicks, left the team to take care of “personal” matters with six games left in the regular season and hasn’t returned. So Camp also played point guard.

Magarity, one of their stars, needed an IV to play before the Wake Forest game because of sickness – and the Hokies lost a very winnable game. Emery missed the Notre Dame game with a concussion and played poorly in a loss to Miami to close the regular season, her first game back.

And despite all that, here they are in Greensboro at the ACC Tournament, still somehow talking postseason on March 2. Tech lost that wretched Wake Forest game. Tech lost to Miami at Cassell Coliseum on Jan. 28 in a game in which it trailed by two with 33 seconds left and had the ball. The Hokies lost at home to Virginia on Feb. 11 in a game in which they led by three with 1:41 remaining.

Win those three games, and you’re 9-7 in league play. Pull off the upset of Louisville on Friday, and you’re squarely in the 50 range of the RPI – prime NCAA Tournament bid territory.

And the Hokies had their chances against the Cardinals. They led for a good chunk of the game before Louisville, behind the muscle of post player Myisha Hines-Allen (21 points, 10 rebounds), managed to re-take the lead in the third quarter.

Still, Tech cut it to 60-59 on an Emery jumper with six minutes to go. Louisville ripped off a 7-0 run, but an Emery 3 pulled the Hokies to within a possession, 67-64, with 1:50 remaining.

They were down 71-67 with 30 seconds left and with the ball when Emery was fouled on a 3-point attempt with 10 seconds to go. No call, though. Brooks, Tech’s bench and the Hokies’ beloved fan base were irate. Forced to foul, the Hokies put Asia Durr on the line, and she buried two free throws to seal it with 4 ticks remaining.

Perhaps that explained some of Emery’s tears, too. The Hokies out-shot Louisville (45.1-40.0) and made 10 3-pointers. Emery, a truly gifted scorer, finished with 27 points to pace four players in double figures.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough.

“I’m disappointed,” Brooks said. “I thought we gave them everything they could handle. Just disappointed.”

“We’ve had some ups and downs this season. We can hang with the top of the league,” Emery said. “I think we are one of the top teams. We just didn’t show it throughout the entire season. We had a lot of adversity. We lost a lot of people, trying to find our new identities, but the way we played tonight, I think we are going to be very dangerous in the future.”

For the present, the Hokies now wait. If they miss on an NCAA bid, they figure to play a game at home in the WNIT. Brooks insists they will be ready, continuing to build and grow a program, while also perhaps taking a sneak peek at 2018-19 when their entire roster returns, pending Hicks’ ultimate resolution, of course.

Friday, though, wasn’t necessarily the time to think of such things. They played their tails off against a tough Syracuse team Thursday and won. They played their tails off against one of the best teams in the nation in Louisville and lost by a mere basket.

The tears were warranted. So, too, was the head coach’s frustration. On this afternoon, they probably deserved better. Jeff Walz would probably be the first to agree.

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