WNIT Semifinal:
Houston 77, VT 72 (OT)
by Will Stewart, TechSideline.com 3/23/02

hokiesportsinfo.com box score

Blacksburg, VA -- Houston used a late-game 16-4 run to erase a nine-point Hokie lead and then won in overtime, downing Tech 77-72 in the WNIT semifinals. The loss ended the Hokies season and spoiled a 32-point, 8-rebound effort by Tech's Ieva Kublina.

Sarah Hicks nailed a three-pointer to give the Hokies a 54-45 lead with 6:45 to go, and Tech appeared to be in control. But the Cougars outscored the Hokies 16-4 over the next four minutes and took a 61-58 lead when Chandi Jones, who scored 32 points, hit a three-pointer with 2:43 to go.

Houston still held the lead, 63-61, with the Hokies in possession and coming off a timeout with 12 seconds to go. Tech's Lisa Guarneri drove from the top of the key down the left-hand side of the lane and scored on a layup to tie it at 63 with five seconds to go.

After a timeout, Houston missed a three-pointer at the buzzer, and the game went to overtime. The Cougars took a 75-72 lead late in OT, and the Hokies got the shot they wanted, with Kublina launching a wide-open three-pointer with five seconds to go. The shot bounced off the rim and backboard, and after a Houston rebound, Angela Curl hit two free throws with 2.3 seconds to go for the final margin of 77-72.

The game consisted of two Houston runs sandwiched around a big run by the Hokies. Houston took a 19-12 lead nine minutes into the game, but the Hokies caught fire and went on a 31-13 run that spanned half time and gave Tech a 43-32 lead with 15:22 to go.

Tech built that lead with dominating post play, led by Kublina. The Hokie post trio of Kublina, Erin Gibson, and Nicole Jones scored 34 of Tech's first 43 points (Kublina 24, Gibson 8, Jones 2).

But with the Hokies holding that 43-32 lead, Kublina picked up her third foul, and Tech coach Bonnie Henrickson benched her with 15:02 remaining. Houston caught fire immediately, and by the time Kublina re-entered the game six minutes later, Houston had closed the gap to 45-42.

The Cougars got even closer, to 46-45, but a layup by Kublina and two straight three-pointers by Hicks sprung Tech to a 54-45 lead with 6:45 to go. With the Cassell Coliseum crowd of 5,409 rocking, it looked like the Hokies had taken Houston's best shot and would win going away.

But the Cougars threw a full-court press on the Hokies and came up with three steals in a two-minute span. That helped spur them on a 16-4 run that ended when Chandi Jones hit a three-pointer with 2:43 to go for a 61-58 Houston lead.

The Hokies were able to send it into overtime on Guarneri's layup, but Kublina blew a wide-open layup on Tech's first possession in OT, a harbinger of bad things to come, and Tech was unable to pull off the victory.

Outstanding performers for Tech were Kublina, with 32 points on 10-23 shooting, and Sarah Hicks, who had 14 points, all in the second half. Freshman center Erin Gibson pitched in 10 points.

Houston was led by Jones with 32 and Shondra Bush with 22. Jones started off red hot, scoring Houston's first seven points and scoring 11 points in the first eight minutes. But when she air-balled a three-pointer shortly afterwards, the Hokie crowd serenaded her with chants of "AIR-BALL!", throwing her off her game.

From the 12:18 mark of the first half, Jones didn't score for over 16 minutes, finally breaking the drought when she hit a three-pointer with 16:01 to go in the second half.

The scene was reminiscent of Tech's 1999 NCAA second-round home victory over Auburn, when Auburn point guard Tiffany Krantz shot an air-ball early in the game. Hokie fans screamed her into submission with the air-ball chant, but unlike Krantz in 1999, Houston's Jones would eventually recover.

Jones and backcourt mate Bush shredded the Hokies down the stretch, scoring 26 points in the last 11 minutes of regulation (11 by Jones and 15 by Bush, including 3 three-pointers). During that time, the Hokies couldn't guard Bush and Jones one-on-one and missed assignments in zone defense, resulting in open three-point looks.

Final game for four seniors: The disappointing loss ended the Tech careers of Sarah Hicks, Lisa Guarneri, Nicole Jones and Mollie Owings.

Hicks was punchless in the first half (no points on 0-3 shooting) but stepped up nicely in the second half, hitting four three-pointers to finish with 14 points. After the final horn sounded, she was in tears before she even left the court.

Guarneri turned in another spectacular game, dishing out a career-high 12 assists, including a fantastic no-look, behind the back pass to Kublina for a layup. Guarneri finished strong in the WNIT, with 27 assists, 18 rebounds, and 13 steals in the last three games.

Jones only had six points against Houston, but that included four points in the last two minutes of regulation to help send the game to overtime.

Kublina a rising star: Sophomore post player Ieva Kublina led the Hokies with 15.2 points and 7.6 rebounds per game, and she also totaled a team-high 86 blocks (2.7 per game). Her 32 points against Houston were a career-high and the first time she had gone over 30 in a game at Tech. Kublina has gone over 20 points in six of her last nine games and is on the verge of becoming a major national star.

Next year's outlook bright: With improved point guard Emily Lipton and shooting guard Chrystal Starling returning, along with Kublina and Gibson in the post, the Hokies return a solid nucleus of players next season.

They will add to it a four-player recruiting class that some have ranked as a top-ten class: 6-1 shooting guard Dawn Chriss, 6-1 forward Kerri Gardin, 6-0 shooting guard Maggie Griesser, and 5-7 point guard Carrie Mason. Chriss was one of 24 national McDonald's All-Americans, and Gardin was one of 100 finalists to be a McDonald's All-American.

Every one of the four players is an outstanding recruit, and in the long run, they'll complement the post duo of the 6-2 Gibson and 6-4 Kublina nicely. And they'll be able to cut their teeth slowly as Gibson, Kublina, Lipton, and Starling carry the load next season.

Tech finishes at 21-11 on the season, their fifth 20-win season and fifth postseason appearance in Bonnie Henrickson's five years as Tech coach.

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