More Than One Surprise in This Win
by Will Stewart, TechSideline.com, 3/14/02
Wednesday night in Cassell Coliseum, the Tech women's basketball team didn't get much point production from a usually reliable source. Lucky for the Hokies, a little-used benchwarmer stepped up and filled in the gap, helping push them on to the next round.
The Hokies downed UNC-Greensboro 51-45 in a first-round WNIT game, earning the right to move on and host old A-10 rival George Washington Saturday night at 7 p.m. in a second-round matchup. Tech managed to win despite getting just 7 points from star center Ieva Kublina, who had blistered the nets late in the regular season but suffered through a horrible 2-for-14 performance on this night, including an 0-for-8 second half.
Fortunately for Tech, Davina Simmons, a 6-0 sophomore forward who had played in only half of Tech's games this year, came from nowhere to score 7 much-needed points in just 13 minutes of playing time. 7 points doesn't sound like much, but when it comes from an unexpected source in a low-scoring game, it makes all the difference in the world.
Simmons checked into the game after a misfiring Tech team had meandered its way to the first media timeout without scoring any points, finding themselves down 4-0. At that point, with 15:58 showing on the first-half clock, Tech was 0-for-3 with three turnovers and was looking for a spark.
Enter Simmons, who had played in just six of Tech's previous 17 games, scoring just 4 points since the calendar rolled over from 2001 to 2002 nearly two and a half months ago. Truly a forgotten player, she was inserted into this one just four minutes into it and responded.
Simmons immediately hit a layup off a pretty baseline move, and less than a minute later blocked a shot. It wasn't much -- she followed that with a turnover and a foul -- but it was enough to get the Hokies going, and they snapped out of it and clawed their way to a 25-18 half time lead on the strength of an 8-2 run to end the half.
But it seemed as if every time the Hokies started to stretch things out, UNC-G would bull their way back into it. Tech turned the half time lead into a 34-24 lead in the second half, but UNC-G put together an 8-0 run to close it to 34-32 with 11:38 to go, making it a game again (go figure; they score 24 points in the first 26 minutes of the game, and then explode for 8 in just 2 minutes).
Tech went up 40-32, and UNC-G closed it to 42-38; Tech went up 45-38, and UNC-G clawed back to 45-42 with 2:12 remaining. Hokie guard Lisa Guarneri, who scored a career-high 11 points and was the only Hokie other than Simmons to shoot over 50%, stole the ball and converted two free throws to turn a dicey situation into a 47-42 lead with 1:23 to go.
This game was an odd mix of basketball that was at times physical and at times played at a breakneck speed. You would never guess it from the low score, but at some points in the first half, this one looked like a track meet. The problem was, while both teams were running up and down the court, neither one could put it in the basket.
Tech shot 30.2% for the game (16-for-53), and UNC-G turned in an equally ugly performance, going 15-for-50 for 30.0%. The collective offensive ineptitude reached its zenith in a surreal second-half moment that saw Tech's 6-2 freshman Erin Gibson steal the ball from UNC-G at the top of the key, dribble 60 feet down the court by herself, and blow an awkward-looking, uncontested layup. Gibson can be forgiven; she probably hasn't dribbled that far in literally years.
What's harder to figure out is why the steady Kublina suffered through her worst performance since an oh-fer against Boston College last season. The normally unflappable Kublina was harassed and banged on many of her 12 misses, but she also badly missed many wide-open shots that she normally makes.
That didn't stop her from contributing elsewhere though. Kublina pulled down a game-high 14 rebounds and added 6 blocks, one of them a key facial when the Hokies were clinging to their 45-42 lead.
Tech was also fortunate to get good three-point shooting, going 5-for-12 from behind the arc, while UNC-G went just 1-for-6. Tech senior Sarah Hicks, who led all scorers with 13 points, got the shooter's bounce on two three-pointers that clanged around the backboard, the rim, and in.
In the end, this wasn't the type of game you would want to take home to meet your mother, but the mission was accomplished. The crowd, though small at just 1,665, was unusually boisterous and loud. And it was big enough to ensure that Tech gets to play the second-round game at home, because the WNIT awards home court to the winner with the highest attendance in the previous round.
In this case, old A-10 rival George Washington will return to Cassell, a familiar haunt for them, on Saturday night at 7:00 p.m. The Hokies only hope that their own shooting accuracy, and Ieva Kublina's A-game, return as well.