Women's Basketball:
Virginia Tech 62, St. Joseph's 53
Philadelphia, PA, 1/23/00
by Will Stewart

For a team that was looking for a watershed, season-defining, turnaround victory, this one may fit the bill quite nicely.

Bonnie Henrickson made a telling statement recently, saying that the Hokie women hadn’t beaten a team "at or above" their level all season long. The point she was making was that although the Hokies had fashioned a respectable 11-5 record, it was built by beating teams the Hokies should beat, and nowhere on the schedule was a victory over a ranked team or a top conference foe, just a handful of near misses.

Even more painful than the inability to beat good teams was the fashion in which the losses were occurring. In many cases, the Hokies simply weren’t playing well, not necessarily getting beaten by teams that were better. The Georgia and Duke losses in Cassell Coliseum were perfect examples of games that the Hokies should have won.

Scratch all that now. At a time when they most needed it, Bonnie’s troops finally posted a big win against a quality opponent, and they did it in inspiring fashion, in a fashion that is capable of lighting the fuse on a team that was desperately looking for inspiration.

For the record, St. Joseph’s came into this game carrying an awesome 16-2 record, including a 6-0 Atlantic-10 record and victories over Virginia and Xavier. The Hawks’ only losses were to national powers Penn State and Tennessee, and St. Joe’s was riding an 8 game winning streak. Make no doubt about it, St. Joe’s is the beast of the Atlantic 10 East Division this year. They feature last year’s A-10 Rookie of the Year, Susan Moran.

The Hawks are ranked 33rd in the latest USA Today/ESPN Top 25 poll, 30th in the latest AP Poll, and 25th in the RPI ratings for games through 1/16/00 (back when the Hawks were 14-2).

All that should serve to inform you that a road win of this margin against a team of St. Joseph’s caliber could be just the tonic the Hokies are looking for. Only time will tell if this game is a springboard for bigger things, but for now, the team and coaching staff were positively giddy in their post-game comments. To them, at this point in the season, this win means the world.

The Game

In the first half of this game, the Hokies played poor, sloppy, turnover-prone basketball. Tech stars Tere Williams and Amy Wetzel had just 6 points between the two of them. The Hokies scored only 17 points and had 14 turnovers, many of the unforced variety (including 4 walking calls that had the Tech radio broadcast team shaking their heads).

Only solid defensive play kept Tech in the game at 28-17. One key to the first half was a shot made by little-used Mollie Owings very late in the half that pulled the Hokies within 11. It seemed to give the Hokies a spark as they entered the locker room, and the only question was if Bonnie Henrickson and her troops would be able to turn that little bit of momentum into something positive.

Indeed they did. The Hokies blew out of the locker room like a cyclone, hitting their first three shots (after a woeful first half of shooting) and closing fast on the Hawks. Tech narrowed the gap to 5 points quickly, and for much of the second half, it was nip and tuck.

The Hokies couldn’t quite seem to catch the Hawks, getting to within 3 points several times, only to have St. Joe’s hit a shot or make a couple of free throws to stay ahead. At least twice, Tech had open three-pointers with a chance to tie or go ahead, but couldn’t hit them.

But then Hokie stars Tere Williams and Amy Wetzel, who had been quietly leading the comeback, suddenly got really loud, and the Hokies blew the Hawks’ doors off.

With about four minutes to go in the game, Williams hit a jumper that finally gave the Hokies their first lead of the game at 43-42. The only question now was if the Hokies could hold on. Tech had established a pattern of falling behind quality opponents, playing catch-up, and then getting crushed late to lose by ten points or so.

Not this time. Perhaps there is some sort of balance in life after all, because all the bad karma and poor finishes of the season to date were canceled out and then some by a Tech burst that blew St. Joe’s off the floor in the last three and a half minutes of this game.

From the 43-42 point, the Hokies simply annihilated St. Joseph’s. Tech immediately tacked on two three-pointers and another two-pointer in a time span in which St. Joe’s only made one basket, and the Hokies pulled ahead 51-44. That completed a 10-2 run.

The run was significant because it included two straight three-pointers, an area in which the Hokies have been woefully inadequate lately, barely making 10% of their three-point shots over a long, multi-game stretch (Tech radio announcer Rick Watson said the Hokies had made only 7 of their last 67 three-pointers at one point – the exact statistic escapes me, but it was in that range). Several times earlier in the half, the Hokies had attempted threes with an opportunity to tie or go ahead, but had not been able to hit them. But once they took the lead, Tech buried three-pointers to stay in the lead.

From the 51-44 mark, the Hokies stretched the lead to 61-51 before settling for a 62-53 win. In all, from the time they trailed 42-37, the Hokies put on a 25-11 to close out the game. On the road. Against arguably the best team in the conference to date.

Wetzel and Williams scored 31 points in the second half between the two of them, almost twice as much as the entire team scored in the first half. Whatever Bonnie Henrickson said in the locker room at half time, she needs to pull that speech back out the next time the Hokies are down by ten at the break.

Notable Notes

  • Tere Williams finished with 25 points, after scoring just 4 in the first half. The total of 25 was one point away from her career high of 26.
  • Amy Wetzel’s line was one of the most balanced performances you’ll ever see. The junior had 12 points, 5 assists, 6 rebounds, and 6 steals. Like Tere Williams, she exploded in the second half, scoring 10 points after having just 2 in the first half.
  • The Hokies embarked on a scoreless stretch in the first half that was about ten minutes long. Tech stayed on 10 points for a long time, but fortunately, limited St. Joe’s scoring until they (the Hokies) could start putting the ball back in the bucket again.
  • Chrystal Starling struggled with turnovers and poor shooting (2-9), but hit one of the big three-pointers that vaulted the Hokies out to the 51-44 lead.
  • The victory moves the Hokies into a first-place tie in the Atlantic-10 West division with GW at 5-1. The Hokies are 12-5 overall, while GW is 14-3.

Ohio Visitors Head Into Blacksburg

Coming up next is a critical two-game home stand for Tech. They face Dayton on Friday night and Xavier on Sunday afternoon (the two games are sandwiched around a men’s home game against UMass on Saturday, which makes for a very nice Hokie basketball weekend).

Dayton is an improved team with a 9-9 overall record and 4-3 A-10 West record. They’ll present a stiff challenge for the Hokies.

Of course, every Hokie women’s basketball fan remembers Xavier. The Musketeers hung two of the Hokies’ three losses on them last year. In a remarkable 28-3 season, Xavier seemed to have Tech’s number, winning two out of three and pushing the Hokies to the limit in the only game that Tech was able to win in the series last year.

At the time of this writing, GW, Tech, and Xavier are in a log-jam at the top of the A-10 West with conference records of 5-1, 5-1, and 5-2. If the Hokies can get by Dayton, then a victory over Xavier would narrow the A-10 West race into a two-team race (for now) between GW and Tech, putting Xavier down by 2 in the loss column.

The Hokies will no doubt be looking for a measure of revenge against Xavier, a team that last year frustrated them, challenged them, and knocked them out of the A-10 tournament, almost costing the Hokies a Top-16 seed and the chance to host NCAA games. Combine the history of this rivalry with the importance of this game to the A-10 race, and next Sunday’s contest should be a barn-burner.

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