Virginia Tech 64, Rhode Island 62 (Women)
Sunday, February 14, 1999

Riddle me this:  how does the #11-ranked team in the country, with a 22-1 record, almost lose to the worst team in their conference, a Rhode Island team that came into the game 4-18 and 0-12 in the conference?

Furthermore, how does that #11 team shoot 25-42 (60%) from the field, outrebound that Rhode Island team 30-22, while Rhode Island is only shooting 42% ... and still barely win?

You can answer that question with statistics.   Sometimes, statistics can be misleading, but in this game, they tell the tale very clearly.  And the statistic that talked the loudest is Tech's turnover total, which was a mind-numbing 30.  Thirty.  The big 3-OH.  That statistic almost cost Tech the game.

Sure, the Hokies outshot Rhode Island 60% to 42%, but the Rams outshot Tech, with 65 attempts to Tech's 42.  The Rams' percentage was worse, but they made more shots (27) than Tech did (25).  Although Rhode Island only had 22 rebounds, 9 of those were offensive rebounds, as compared to Tech's 7 offensive rebounds.

Throw in another bad free throw shooting effort for Tech (13-23 from the line, or a paltry 57%), and you have the makings of a near-upset of gargantuan proportions.  Along the way, there was some atrocious reffing (which I have mentioned before is not uncommon in A-10 women's games, and it's not going to change) and some circus shots by Rhode Island, and the result was a gut-wrenching affair that saw me deserting Mrs. HokieCentral at the Fort Chiswell factory outlet shops, and listening to the end of the game in the car out in the parking lot.

I didn't desert her, you understand - I just left her in a shop while I went out to the parking lot.

Anyway, this one obviously came down to the wire.  With the game tied with a minute to go and Tech playing defense, Nicole Jones picked Rhode Island blind and went the distance for a layup that put the Hokies up 61-59.  URI responded with a three-point play the old fashioned way, and after a Tech miss, the Hokies were forced to foul, and Rhode Island went to the line with a 62-61 lead, two shots coming, and about thirteen seconds left (details escape me).

With things looking grim, the Rhode Island player missed both freebies, and amazingly, as the players scrambled for the rebound, the refs called a foul on Rhode Island.  After seeing the tape-delayed telecast, I thought it may have been a foul, but certainly not one that you call with the game on the line.   Tech's Katie O'Conner was the beneficiary, and she calmly stroked both free throws to put Tech up 63-62.

URI brought the ball down court, but Lisa Witherspoon, in an odd reversal of what happened in Tech's loss to Xavier, stripped the URI guard of the ball, and Amy Wetzel grabbed the loose ball.  She was fouled, and hit one of the free throws to provide the final 64-62 margin.  Rhode Island missed a length-of-the-court heave as time expired.

After the game, Bonnie Henrickson was beside herself.   She paid compliments where they were due, but there weren't many to go around, other than to Rhode Island.  Bonnie said she was as "disappointed as I've been in my two years here" with Tech's effort.  Harsh words, but the team was deserving of them.  They're better than this - way better - and missing free throws, turning the ball over 30 times, and not playing good help defense in the post are mistakes that are below a team of this caliber.

The bad free-throw shooting in particular is perplexing.   In the last two games, the Tech women have shot a Rolan-Roberts-like 30-57 (53%), a number that Bonnie grimly refuses to excuse.  Sure, being 23-1 and having a huge target on your back makes you susceptible to every opponent's best effort, but as long as you're putting forth your best as well, that's okay.  I hope the ladies snap out of the free-throw shooting slump, because as the competition gets better in the A-10 and NCAA tournaments, the Hokies will need to be firing on all cylinders to realize their goal of making the Sweet 16.

Sorry to be a downer, though.  The bottom line is, good teams win even when they play poorly, and Tech did just that in this game.  With the chips on the line, they flexed their winning ways and brought home the victory.  Next up is their last road contest, Thursday night against La Salle, and then the Hokies come home for the much-anticipated, season-ending matchup with GW on Sunday in the Cassell.   Get your tickets now (1-800-VATECH4), because that one is going to be a tough ticket to get.

USA Today game recap

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