Analysis: Virginia Tech 72, Liberty 51
by Greg Kessler, 11/20/00
The Hokie women opened their second straight season against the Liberty Flames, winning 72-51. Although the final score was slightly more lopsided than last year's 60-45 victory, it would have to be described as a sloppy victory at best.
The team seemed especially strong early on in both halves with the starters (Emily Lipton, Amy Wetzel, Sarah Hicks, Tere Williams, and Christina Strother) and substitute guards Mollie Owings (more on her later) and Chrystal Starling in the game. Although her decision-making still isn't top notch, the offense just seems to run better with Lipton in the game than with Wetzel running the point, possibly because it takes Wetzel away from what she does best. On top of that, Strother is a dominant presence in the paint, especially on defense.
As the halves wore on and substitutions came in, the chemistry began to break down, giving Liberty more opportunities offensively and defensively and turning a solid early lead into only six points at halftime. Nicole Jones, last year's starter in the middle, was probably the biggest surprise in terms of not playing up to the potential Hokie fans have seen from her the last two years. It could just be that coming off the bench doesn't suit her, but with Strother playing as she did today, there is no immediate reason to think that anything might change.
Mollie Owings, on the other hand, played exceptionally. Offensively and defensively, she seems to always manage to find the proper place on the floor. Although Tere Williams is clearly the most talented player on the team, because of how she hustles Owings is probably the most fun to watch (with a close second going to Chrystal Starling, who had some beautiful fast-break baskets). With starter Hicks' long-range shooting looking no better today than it did through her season-long slump last year, it seems to me that Owings is more than ready to step in and give a more than solid effort.
Going into the game, there were two big questions I wanted answered. How would the freshmen play, and has Emily Lipton stepped up her game to the point where she can stave off a starting challenge from Illinois-transfer Lisa Guarneri when Guarneri becomes eligible December 18?
First the freshmen. Both Davina Simmons and Ieva Kublina got a solid number of minutes and their share of touches. They both seemed tentative, especially Kublina, who seemed somewhat weak on the boards despite her 6'4" stature. They both showed flashes of talent and I feel confident that with experience will be very solid players.
As far as Lipton, the year of experience clearly showed. She made her share of mistakes, but also played well and (as I stated earlier) the offense seemed much more smooth with her at the point. Combine that with a 6-for-6 stretch at the free throw line in the last minutes of the game (a time when it's critical for ball-handlers to shoot free throws well) and I can't complain at what I saw. Obviously, though, I haven't seen Lisa Guarneri, and if she's anything like the last Lisa who ran the point for us, she will be hard to deny.
On a final note, the scoreboards in Cassell look wonderful. Despite a minor glitch involving the substitution horn with about five minutes left in the first half, I can see how they will be wonderful additions to the Coliseum in years to come.