Virginia Tech 73, St. Peter's 48 (Women)
NCAA Tournament Opening Round
Saturday, March 13, 1999

No Weber State vs. North Carolina here. St. Peter's never had a chance.

The Peahens were too slow on the inside and couldn't shoot well enough from the outside to consider hanging with the Hokies, who came out and very quickly made the statement that there would be no upset tonight.

After surrendering an easy basket on St. Peters' first possession, the Hokies reeled off eight straight points over the next two minutes to take an 8-2 lead and fire the first warning shot at St. Peter's.

The buckets the Hokies were scoring during that stretch very quickly exposed the primary advantage that Tech had over St. Peter's - interior quickness. St. Peter's was taken aback by the speed of the Hokie post players, most notably Tere Williams. Tech got a lot of good, wide-open looks inside, both in transition and in the half-court offense.

The Peahens did a poor job of switching off on screens, and they paid for it as the Hokies consistently popped open inside, where Lisa Witherspoon and Amy Wetzel delivered the ball to them for layup after layup. The two Tech guards had 7 assists each, and very often, Tech's interior players were so open when the ball was delivered to them that they were surprised and almost missed easy shots.

On one play, Michelle Houseright was delivered the ball in the paint, and she actually turned away from a totally open layup and took a more difficult 8-footer. She assumed that the Peahen players would be in position to stop the layup, and not only were they not under the basket, they weren't there at all. Fortunately, Michelle made the shot.

The only chance St. Peter's had for an upset would come from beyond the three-point line, but they simply didn't have the shooters to even try it. St. Peter's shot 1-9 from beyond the arc, and they didn't even really start shooting the three-pointer until it was late and the game was out of reach.

And throughout the game, the St. Peter's players missed a lot of relatively open shots, and often missed them badly.

The Hokies were aggressive in this one from the opening tap, and the only pothole they hit along the way came when Tere Williams picked up her second foul early in the first half and spent the rest of the half on the bench. Tere would never really get back in the swing of things, although she did finish with 13 points in 15 minutes. Had she played her normal minutes, she could have scored 30 points.

With her quickness, Tere was absolutely shredding the St. Peter's defense, and when she went out, Michelle Houseright took over. Tech got decent contributions from Nicole Jones and Kim Seaver, but the real difference-maker was the House, who scored 21 points on 10-11 shooting.

There's not a whole lot more to say about this game, except to say that the Hokies were very business-like, and as I said, they sent the message very early to St. Peter's that an upset wasn’t in the cards. Tech came out fired up and taking chances, and executing their offense very well. Once they got up on St. Peter's 17-6, the game had a few ebbs and flows, but it was never in doubt.

The Hokies now move on to the second round, where they'll play Auburn, who defeated Texas 69-61. I stayed around and watched the first half of that game, and I've got a short scouting report at the end of this game report.

Game Notes

Big Crowd: the Hokies did it again, setting another attendance record at 10,052, Cassell's capacity. The crowd is one of the largest ever to see an opening-round NCAA women's tournament game. The students have not yet returned from Spring Break, so there weren't many of them there, but there were a lot of little kids and families.

I suspect that Monday's crowd will have a completely different makeup. Since the students are back and the game is a late one (tip-off at 9:00), I think you can subtract the tots from this game, add the students, and hopefully, get another sellout, this one of the more raucous variety. Not that tonight's crowd wasn't vocal - it was, but once the Hokies took control, it took the edge off the crowd noise.

Wetzel does her Spoon Imitation: Amy Wetzel took a page from Lisa Witherspoon's book, matching the diminutive point guard's assist total, with 7. Wetzel struggled somewhat from the field, going only 5-14, but I thought she played a more complete game than usual.

The Annoying Gnat: To be blunt, St. Peter's had very little exceptional talent on the floor, but two players did stand out. One of them was #33, Nicole Dames, a short (5'-2") but super-quick point guard. Dames only scored 2 points, but on defense, she was in Lisa Witherspoon's face all night, from one end of the court to the other.

The other good player the Peahens had was #10, senior guard Patty Marchese, who had the smoothest shot on the team and looked as if she could have started in the A-10. Marchese led St. Peter's with 14 points on 7-14 shooting, and when she left the game for the last time, she received a nice hand from the St. Peter's fans.

The Refs - Oh What a Difference the Tournament Makes: the referees in this game were about five steps above the refs we normally see in A-10 women's games. They had a spotty second half, but their first half was flawless. They even made the correct call on a difficult shot clock violation, where the ball was flying out of bounds as the shot clock expired. One ref initially called the out of bounds first, but a second referee corrected the call to a shot clock violation, because the ball hadn't landed out of bounds before the shot clock buzzer went off.

Bizarre play: Late in the first half, Tech had the ball with 30 seconds on the game clock, and 27 seconds on the shot clock. The Hokies ran the shot clock down to zero's, and launched a shot as it expired. The shot drew iron and bounced out towards the sideline. Hearing the shot clock buzzer, nearly every single player on the court relaxed, thinking it was the game clock, and that the half had expired. The ball bounced around for nearly three seconds before a St. Peter's player retrieved it with almost no time left on the clock. If a single Hokie had realized what was going on, she could have retrieved the ball and scored uncontested.

Auburn Scouting Report

The Tigers look good, but there's no reason for the Hokies to be intimidated. Auburn has a slew of relatively quick inside players, so Tere Williams and Nicole Jones will have to on their toes defensively.

The Auburn interior players are all in the 6-0 to 6-2 range, so fortunately, they don't have any 6-5 trees that the Hokies simply can't match up with. Auburn's inside players are led by 6-2 center Conswella Sparrow, who averages 14.4 points a game. They have another forward, 6-0 Shana Askew, #33, who will step out and shoot the three-pointer, very similar to Tech's Katie O'Conner, so Katie-O may match up with her.

The biggest problem for the Hokies is that Auburn appears to be a little deeper than the Hokies inside, and Nicole Jones may not have the quickness to hang with whoever she winds up guarding.

On the outside, Auburn's point guard is #4, 5-9 junior Tiffany Krantz. Krantz is a pretty decent player who averages nearly 10 points a game, but she isn't the passer that Lisa Witherspoon is, only putting up 2.7 assists per game to Lisa's 8.3. As a matter of fact, the entire Auburn team only averages about 13.8 assists per game, so they don't appear to be a great passing team.

Where Auburn will give Tech trouble is defensively. The Tigers play a version of the dreaded 2-3 zone that the Temple men's team plays, and since the Hokies don't possess the sheer three-point shooting talent to bomb away over it, they'll have to beat it with penetration and sharp interior passing. Texas was able to do this with some success, but they had two super-quick guards and good interior passers. You really have to be on top of your game to beat the matchup zone.

Another way the Hokies can beat the Tigers is to push the ball up the floor, and not allow Auburn to set up on defense. For their part, Auburn, from what I saw, will very rarely push the ball up the floor, and instead, prefers to take the slow and deliberate approach to offense. But once they set up in the half court, they'll pound it inside and try to beat you with quickness and interior passing.

It should be an interesting and challenging matchup, but don’t go into this one fearing that the Hokies are about to collide with a superior SEC powerhouse. That's not the case at all. Auburn is good, and Tech should respect them, but they shouldn't fear them.

Nine o'clock Monday night, the Cassell will be electric, as a great women's basketball matchup occurs, with a Sweet 16 berth on the line. The Hokies have a chance to make Tech history, and I don't think they'll back down or be intimidated at all.

USA Today game recap
A breeze, for starters (The Roanoke Times)
St. Peter's was Tech's last breather (The Roanoke Times)

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