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Diary of the ACC Women’s Basketball Tournament: Championship Weekend

Virginia Tech deservedly walks away with the title.

It’s come down to this, the final four, as it were, of the ACC. Order has returned as the top four seeds have reached the semifinals. There was only one upset — Wake Forest over Florida State — but as FSU was without Ta’Niya Latson, it looks like less and less of one.

12:00 One Ava Oldham knocks the Star Spangled Banner out of the park. She might be nine, but the fans stay standing for her ovation. Up next, Notre Dame and Louisville.

12:02 Official Friend of Streaking the Lawn, and my old college roommate, Mark, predicts a Louisville win due to the Meaningless Metric: “Louisville’s video was just better.”

12:09 Notre Dame’s Maddy Westbeld picks up where she leaves off hitting a lovely three. 5:55 and it’s Notre Dame 5, Louisville 3. These first three minutes have been very much like the opening drives of a football game as the offenses are more probing the opponent’s defenses than either school running their sets.

12:23 This game is a defensive slugfest. Louisville just forced a shot-clock violation. It is looking very much like the UNC vs Duke game as Notre Dame has as many fouls as points.

12:24 Westbeld and Louisville’s Hailey Van Lith airballed threes on subsequent possessions.

12:25 Notre Dame’s Sonia Citron joins the club.

12:25 End of the first quarter and it is Louisville up 12-7. Citron and Van Lith, a day after scoring 28 and 27 points respectively, have combined for two points.

12:34 Louisville 18-7. Louisville’s Mykasa Robinson is putting on a show: three buckets, three assists, a pair of steals, and she’s a one-man full court press. Notre Dame’s Niele Ivey has called two timeouts in 60 seconds. Louisville’s defense is winning this game.

12:35 We’ve played 11 games in three days thus far. Everyone is getting a little punchy. The tennis shoe dirigible operator is juking it up. The shoe just did a 360.

12:43 It’s a war. Defending a Van Lith fast break, Citron sends Van Lith to the deck. Next play, while going for a loose ball, Citron gets hip-checked and hits the deck hard and has to leave. Notre Dame immediately responds with two quick baskets. Notre Dame still down, 24-13.

12:46 Clearly, it is part of Notre Dame’s game plan to get the ball into the low post, be it Lauren Ebo or Kylie Watson. Both are being fronted by Olivia Cochran and Liz Dixon. Successfully. Notre Dame has thrown the ball away three times this quarter on failed attempts.

12:52 More end-game woes. Van Lith doesn’t know, or care, apparently, how to get two shots in the last minute. Maybe they don’t need it because they are up 29-15 at the half.

Van Lith has two points. As does Citron. Did anybody’s Bingo card have them combining for four first-half points?

My buddy Mark is unimpressed with Notre Dame’s off-ball movement. Maybe a hangover from the NC State game?

1:00 The halftime show is a jump-roping demonstration. Honest question. Why doesn’t every school just do away with their cheerleading squads and just have jump-rope teams. The fans are waaay more engaged during this demo than they have been for any cheerleading. If sexism must be preserved, we can still dress the women in shorts and halter tops.

1:20 6:12 and it’s Louisville up 39-18. The Cardinal’s defense is shredding Notre Dame and the Fighting Irish cannot get into rhythm. Given that Notre is missing a point guard, keeping up the pressure makes sense.

1:22 Sonia Citron, admittedly not a point guard, has the ball stripped away on consecutive possessions.

1:26 Why am I not surprised that Hokie fans do the chicken dance better than anyone else?

1:29 Van Lith gets her second bucket. Louisville is up 43-21 with Hailey contributing just four points.

1:47 Why is Van Lith still in the game? Surely Louisville’s Jeff Walz can look down to his right to see Notre Dame’s Olivia Miles and Dara Mabrey sitting this game out in sweats. Both Van Lith and Chrislyn Carr have taken hard spills in the past minute.

1:48 League wide woes from beyond the arc continue: the two teams are a combined 2-19 from deep.

1:52 Walz has emptied his bench. Carr is the only Louisville starter still in the game, and she’s showboating and, to be frank, hogging the ball. It was only on her third possession up the court that she actually passed the ball to one of the scrubs.

1:53 Louisville’s Noriko Konno airballs a three. The Notre Dame band serenades her with the Airball Chant, which just seems juvenile. This game is over. Ragging the benchwarmer is tacky.

1:54 Konno makes the band pay, nailing a baseline jumper. Final score: 64-38.

2:20 Duke vs Virginia Tech up next.

2:21 I coach. I know the importance of a good warmup. Duke has by far the worst, least involved warm up of any team here. It’s literally nothing more than just a bunch of women standing around the basket throwing up shots. Maybe that’s why the Blue Devils struggle to score.

2:35 The game is delayed by 20 minutes. The announcement was very clear — great sound system here at the Coliseum — but no one in my section paid attention to why. Players are creatures of habit and they have their own rhythms. Standing around for 20 more minutes? One of these teams is going to come out flat. And at this level, that could make all the difference.

2:50 Bojangle’s has been a major sponsor of this tournament, giving away prize boxes with Bojangle’s gift cards every game. Riding through Greensboro before today’s games, I see that a $25 Bojangle’s cards means more here than it would in my neck of the woods.

3:03 Mark’s pronouncement on the vids? Both were bad, Duke’s was less bad in that Virginia Tech’s video really only showed their starters.

3:04 For the second straight game, Duke’s Celeste Taylor opens with an airball.

3:06 Whoa! Standing on the baseline defending the in-bounds, Duke’s Elizabeth Balogun grabs the ball that Taylor Soule threw right at her, in an attempt to bounce it off her and out of bounds, out of the air.

3:14 Tech’s Taylor Soule picks up her second foul. It’s just 7:45 in the first quarter. She heads to the bench.

3:24 Balogun gets her second consecutive easy bucket. Tech’s Kayana Traylor inexplicably passes her the ball at the rim. Tech is still up, though, 13-11.

3:26 It’s raining threes. Tech’s Georgia Amoore and D’Asia Gregg sink a pair. We expect that from Amoore, she led the ACC in made threes. But Gregg? That’s bad news for Duke. Balogun answers with a three of her own for the Blue Devils, 19-16 Tech.

3:28 Shot clock violation on Virginia Tech. Duke’s defense is elite.

3:35 Celeste Taylor is ice cold, 0-3 from deep and 1-7 overall. Meanwhile, Tech is now 6-7 from deep and has opened up a 27-18 lead. Given Duke’s struggles to score the ball late in the season, this seems huge.

3:38 Duke puts Taylor on Amoore. Makes sense. Taylor is Duke’s best defender and someone has to slow Amoore down. But it doesn’t work. Amoore finishes at the rim and then buries another trey. With 1:42 left in the half, it’s now 32-18. Duke is 1-8 from deep while Tech is 7-9.

3:40 Kayana Traylor buries two baseline jumpers in succession. When Traylor is your fourth best player (after Amoore, Kitley and Soule,) you’ve got a pretty good team. Now it is 36-18.

3:41 As the players head for the locker room, the Duke fans in my section head for home. They’ve seen enough.

4:00 Duke come out trying a new tactic, working the ball into the post to 6’6” Kennedy Brown. It works as Brown hits two quick buckets. Sentences you never thought you would read: Through 22 minutes Brown is outscoring Liz Kitley 6-4.

4:02 Brown scores again, she’s got eight and it’s now 36-24. Tech has just let Duke back into the game.

4:10 Everyone on Tech looks like they are ready for the game to be over and they wanna go home. Except for Amoore, who hits a pair of threes.

4:17 Amoore wants to be the high scorer for the tournament. She cans another trey.

It’s 48-30 and it felt like Duke was the more active team this quarter, and yet here they are at the end of three, still down by that same 18-point spread as at halftime.

4:44 Duke huffed and puffed but with 1:50 remaining in the fourth quarter, it’s 54-37. Yep, they knocked a whole point off that deficit.

4:45 Traynor adds insult to injury closing on her personal four-point run. Final score, Duke 37, Virginia Tech 58.

The final is set, bringing the preseason #1 (Louisville) and #2 (Virginia Tech) seeds together. Order restored indeed.

Championship Sunday

Virginia Tech has the better starting five. Liz Kitley is the two-time ACC player of the year, Georgia Amoore is better actually, Kayana Traylor is basically a second point guard (which will be needed against Louisville’s defense,) Taylor Soule does the real dirty work down low, and Cayla King is an underrated defender and a fine three point shooter. But the team isn’t deep as only D’Asia Gregg gets much meaningful time from the bench.

Louisville, on the other hand, comes at you in waves, has exhibited the best full-court pressure in the tournament field, and in Hailey Van Lith and Chrislyn Carr, has two players who are more explosive than Tech’s Amoore.

10:00 1st Quarter

It’s a packed house as Virginia Tech fans have shown up in droves. The traveling Louisville contingent had been great all tournament long, but they are seriously outnumbered.

Louisville lost to Wake Forest earlier in the season, and beat them in the tournament. Louisville lost to Notre Dame, twice, in the regular season, and beat them in the tournament. And Louisville lost to Tech. Will this be the third redemption game in a row for the Cardinals? Head Coach Jeff Walz apparently loves to play the revenge card.

8:02 The Hokies feed the ball to Kitley three straight times in the post and she’s scored three straight times. Kitley is a fine ball player, to be sure, but I’ve never been overly impressed with her. She’s 6’6” yet can be moved out of the post and Tech usually cannot just dump the ball into her. Yet, here, they have.

6:38 Hailey Van Lith is 2-2 for five points. Both times Tech has tried to force her to the right (she’s a lefty) and it hasn’t bothered Van Lith.

5:59 Chryslyn Carr with a three and it’s 10-6 Louisville. Mykasa Robinson has been tasked with marking Georgia Amoore, and it’s working. Amoore is 0-3 and she’s looked rushed thus far.

3:35 The rim has not been favorable to Tech. Two threes have rimmed in and out, and I do mean rimmmmed.

3:26 That bouncy rim works for Kayana Traylor as Tech takes the lead, 12-10.

2:49 Kitley is playing like she’s read my mind and she’s pissed. A pair of great fade-aways.

1:51 Louisville introduces the press. Why wait so long?

0:03 Amoore banks in a three and it’s 21-14 Tech. She’s had a poor quarter by her standards, yet she still has five points

2nd Quarter

7:39 Taylor Soule picks up two quick fouls and she heads to the bench. They were a little tacky, but equally needless. She played two minutes in the first half against Duke and now she’ll sit the remainder of the quarter. Shades of Camryn Taylor.

6:06 Van Lith is gunning, and not in a good way. Since starting out 2-2 she’s been ice cold, going 1-6, and these last two have been forced. For the game’s first five minutes, Traylor was tasked with Van Lith, and Traylor is a fine defender, but the past 10 minutes it’s been Cayla King, and she’s shutting Van Lith down.

4:55 Georgia Amoore with a step-back three. Since missing her first three from deep, she’s 4-4 from the floor and it’s 30-18 Tech. This game is getting away from Louisville.

3:16 “Official time out on the floor.” I’ve often wondered… What is an unofficial timeout?

3:16 Louisville brings back the full court pressure. As good as Mykasa Robinson is, she’s not able to really disrupt Amoore.

1:15 Stupid foul by Noriko Konno going over Amoore’s back for a ball she cannot hope to get. All this does is put Amoore on the line. This is just giving points away. Amoore cans both.

0:37 Stupid foul by Louisville’s Liz Dixon, also challenging a high ball to Liz Kitley, that she cannot hope to get. Kitley goes to line and sinks both. It’s 38-28 at the half and Tech has gone 10-10 from the charity stripe in this quarter.

3rd Quarter

8:19 Robinson blows by Traylor for the and-one.

6:43 Carr starting to light it up in the second half, she 10 this quarter.

5:58 Make that 12. Louisville fans are starting to find their voice.

5:16 Taylor Soule making up for lost time, she has seven straight points for Tech. On a breakaway it looked like she was mentally stepping it off for a dunk. And rumors are she can.

4:25 It’s the Carr show as she hits in transition. 47-40.

3:40 The only person who can stop Carr right now is herself. She’s called for traveling. (But she still hits the three after the whistle.)

3:40 It’s not Amoore’s quarter. She’s scoreless this frame and she just threw the ball away.

1:23 Carr now has 18 points, and all of them have been tough makes. 51-42 Tech. If Van Lith will start pulling her weight, it feels like Louisville can climb right back in this.

0:57 Great Louisville defensive stand.

4th Quarter

1st Half:Kitley and Amoore totaled 28 points

3rd Quarter: Kitley and Amoore totaled 2 points.

9:16 Traylor step back three.

8:50 Carr misses.

8:29 Amoore step back three.

8:05 Carr misses.

7:34 Olivia Cochrane called for a dubious offensive foul.

7:33 No, it was the correct call. Jeff Walz is going apoplectic. I love the smell of apoplexy…

6:37 Robinson takes the game into her own hands. She scores on a pair of fine drives and then just rips the ball out of Kitley’s hands on the defensive end.

4:49 Play of the tournament: Traylor steps beautifully through two defenders, dribbles around a third and then lays the prettiest bounce pass to Soule for an easy bucket.

3:45 The Louisville full court pressure is awesome and Tech is struggling. I guess that after three games in three days, the Cardinals just couldn’t apply it for a full game.

3:04 And yet… Amoore cans a three, setting a tournament record of 14 threes in a single tourney. And she did it in just three games.

1:51 Kitley just earned her presumptive Player of the Tournament award with a brilliant rebound (she tapped it to herself) and spun perfectly into and through contact for the and-one. 65-54 Tech.

1:18 All that’s left is for Louisville to foul and that’s bad news. Amoore, Kitley, and Traylor will go 6-6 from the line. On the night, Tech will go 25-27 from the line.

0:41 Voters are not idiots! Hey, that’s news to me. As anyone who had read me knows my disdain for voters, but on this night, Georgia Amoore is rightly anointed the tournament MVP. Amoore got the buckets that changed games, and while the Louisville press was effective, they never trapped Amoore. A richly deserved award.

Final Score 75-67 and it is Virginia Tech’s first ever trophy/title in women’s basketball.

My All Star Team

Georgia Amoore – Virginia Tech

Sonia Citron — Notre Dame

Chrislyn Carr – Louisville

Amari Robinson – Clemson

Liz Kitley – Virginia Tech

My Favorite Players this Tournament

Elise Williams – Wake Forest

Mykasa Robinson – Louisville

Sonia Citron – Notre Dame

Ale’Jah Douglas – Clemson

Georgia Amoore – Virginia Tech

Thanks for reading along this week! If you missed the first three days’ diaries, you can read them here: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3.