Virginia Tech 61, Xavier 60 (Women)
Friday, February 5, 1999

Talk about payback.  How about playing a team that has beaten you six times in a row, including your only loss this year, trailing them for most of the game, and then beating them on a free throw - with no time left on the clock?  That's payback.

The Tech women dealt a painful loss to the Xavier Musketeers in a game that probably eliminates Xavier from the A-10 West championship race.  Xavier outplayed Tech most of the night and arguably deserved to win, but three big plays in the last 32 seconds, including 4 points from Amy Wetzel, earned the Hokies a win that seemed throughout the game like it might not happen.

Xavier's six straight victories over the Hokies came about because the Musketeers present massive matchup problems for Tech.  Xavier sports some talented guards and a couple of aircraft carriers in the paint, and it makes it difficult for the smaller Hokies, who don't get much offense from the three-point shot, to score on them.

The first half was ample evidence of this.  Boosted by a(nother) record crowd of 9,724, Tech bolted out to a 10-2 lead just two minutes into the game.  XU called a timeout and proceeded to school the Hokies over the next seven minutes, embarking on a 16-2 run that put them up 18-12.

Tech struggled mightily with the Xavier zone.  Lately, teams have been packing it into a zone against the Hokies and daring them to shoot the three, and the Tech women aren't anxious to do it.  They're a good-but-not-great three-point shooting team, and in fact, they sometimes avoid shooting the three like the plague.  Despite many open looks from beyond the arc in the first half, Tech continued to try to force the ball inside against the much bigger Xavier team, with almost no success.  The Hokies had an incredible seventeen turnovers in the first half, yet trailed by only three points at the half, 33-30.

In the second half, the Hokies took the air out of the ball and slowed it down (as much as you can with a 30 second shot clock, anyway).  Showing much more patience, but still a little reluctant to shoot the three-pointer, the Hokies kept clawing their way towards Xavier, only to see the Musketeers pull back away every time that Tech got within striking distance.  It was painful to watch, but the Hokies did play much better in the second half, committing only four turnovers.

As the five minute mark approached, the Cassell throng started getting rowdy, and the noise rattled at least some of the visitors.  I didn't have a scorecard, so I'm clueless as to the Xavier players' identities, but as the game wound down, they were almost saved by their huge center, #5 (Tuukkanen, maybe?).  While a Xavier reserve guard wearing #10 was missing two wide open layups in the last couple of minutes, #5 was drilling jumpers and pulling down rebounds to keep Xavier ahead.

With under a minute to go, the Hokies came into possession of the ball, down 60-57.   XU made the mistake of leaving Amy Wetzel open behind the arc, and she canned a three-pointer with 32 seconds left to go.  It's a good thing the roof at Cassell was rebuilt two years ago, because if not, the crowd would have blown it off when Wetzel's three-pointer went through the twine.

Xavier moved the ball around the perimeter on their next possession and then their talented guard Kremer, who tortured the Hokies with 20 points and 5 steals, drove down the right side towards an open baseline.  As Kremer moved towards the basket, Michelle Houseright slid back in front of her, a collision occurred, and as Kremer lofted an off-target bank shot with fifteen seconds to go, the ref's whistle blew.

Nearly ten thousand Hokie fans momentarily held their breath, appalled that the game should rest in the hands of one of the worst officiating crews to ever see the light of day.  You think the refs are bad in the A-10 men's games?  You ought to see the crews that work the women's games - this bunch missed calls both ways all night long, but in fairness, I think it evened out.

The call?  Charge.  Cassell erupted again.  And for the record, I thought it was the right call, and I'm not just looking through my maroon and orange glasses when I say that.

The Hokies called a timeout and set up a play for Tere Williams.  The sophomore drove down the left side and put up a shot that banked harmlessly off the side of the glass and into the paint, where it was batted around.  As the clock wound down, Amy Wetzel finally came into possession of it, and as she launched it towards the basket, she was clobbered.

The ref blew the whistle and called a shooting foul - their second clutch correct call in a row - and the clock showed all zero's.  Amazingly, Amy Wetzel was about to take a trip to the free throw line in a tie game, with goose eggs on the clock.  The Cassell crowd was thrown into delirium, including this webmaster, who jumped around like a little girl attending a public appearance by Leonardo DiCaprio.

Some unorganized minutes followed, with Xavier calling timeouts, players milling around, and fans screaming and clapping to Tech Triumph.  Wetzel took up her position at the free throw line, and Lisa Witherspoon would later say, "As soon as she got on the free-throw line, I was just standing there behind here looking up at everyone and I knew we were going to win that ballgame. I just felt like crying right there"  There's something you'd never hear after a men's game.

The other players gathered at midcourt, and Wetzel took up a lonely position at the foul line, with ten thousand people all whispering, "Shhhhh...."  A throng of photographers, cameramen, and sports anchors crowded under the basket to record the moment - there were at least eight of them, and it created a surreal tableau of the media all training their attention on the one lone figure at the line.

Wetzel dribbled, spun the ball, and released it, and the Hokies had their revenge.   Three years and six straight games of futility had finally come to an end.   And for a couple of hours, almost ten thousand Hokie fans were treated to the Cassell at its finest, with an unexpected group - the Tech women's team - as their hosts.

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