After a late buzzer beater by Elizabeth Kitley, the No. 22 North Carolina women’s basketball team (19-9, 10-7 ACC) fell to No. 9 Virginia Tech (23-4, 13-4 ACC), 61-59, in Carmichael Arena on Thursday evening.
Redshirt senior Eva Hodgson and junior forward Alyssa Ustby returned from injury, and senior forward Malu Tshitenge also started in honor of senior night. Junior guard Deja Kelly drew first blood with a mid-range jumper.
The Tar Heels built an early 8-0 lead when Kelly knocked down another jumper and layup while Ustby scored a layup. Virginia Tech didn’t score until over five minutes inwhen guard Kayana Traylor drove inside for a layup of her own.
The Hokies finally got their star center Elizabeth Kitley going on a post-entry pass for an easy lay-in, but Hodgson got to the line and answered with two made free throws. Junior guard Kennedy Todd-Williams began to heat up, scoring five points including a fastbreak triple. Star Hokie guard Georgia Amoore closed out the first quarter with a 3-pointer and UNC led, 16-9.
As Todd-Williams and Kelly carried the UNC offense, Virginia Tech began to chip away at North Carolina’s lead, with Traylor and Kitley connecting on multiple layups and turnaround jumpers. The Tar Heels quickly found themselves trailing by one point when Kitley spun for a fadeaway jumper in the paint.
After being guarded tightly by redshirt first-year guard Kayla McPherson and Todd-Williams, Amoore finally found some breathing room on a quick inbounds play, where she drained a wide open corner three off a Kitley tapback pass. UNC led 32-28 at halftime.
Amoore opened up the second frame by splitting UNC’s defense for an inside score. Kelly missed a layup on the other end, but Tshitenge was there for the putback. A short scoring spurt backed by a Kitley jumper and two Traylor triples put the Hokies up 38-36. As time ticked off the third quarter clock, McPherson poked away the ball from Amoore and raced down the court for an and-one fastbreak layup.
As Amoore remained stagnant early in the fourth quarter, Traylor and Kitley continued to bolster Virginia Tech’s offense, combining for seven more points. Kelly hit two mid-range jumpers to keep the Tar Heels in it, but Amoore answered with a jumper and Kitley scored a putback to build a 55-51 lead with 2:19 to play.
McPherson hit a pull-up three to pull the Tar Heels within one point, but guard Cayla King answered with a baseline jumper. WIth under a minute to play, Kelly hit back-to-back mid-range jumpers to give UNC a 58-57 lead.
With under 10 seconds left, King hit two clutch free throws to put the Hokies up 59-58. Ustby got to the line with 2.6 seconds to play and banked in the first free throw but missed the second. A Virginia Tech timeout allowed the Hokies to advance the ball, where Kitley iced the game with a wide open turnaround fadeaway as the buzzer soundes to giver her team the win.
Who stood out?
Kelly and Todd-Williams led UNC in scoring with 18 and 13 points, respectively.
Kitley and Traylor carried Virginia Tech’s offense, pouring in 21 and 20 points.
When was it decided?
The back-and-forth affair was finally decided on the Kitley game winner. Additionally, UNC was dominated on the glass by Virginia Tech, grabbing only 28 rebounds to the Hokies’ 41.
Why does it matter?
Given Virginia Tech’s impressive resume and top-10 ranking, a win could have advanced UNC’s case for being a top-16 overall seed and hosting the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament. With the loss, UNC’s chances of hosting have become increasingly slim.
Additionally, the game exhibited the Tar Heels at near full strength, with the return of Hodgson and Ustby as well as McPherson demonstrating her solidified role in the rotation.
When do they play next?
The Tar Heels will play their final regular season game at Duke in Cameron Indoor Stadium on Sunday at noon.
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