Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Improved Virginia Tech holds off Old Dominion

Virginia Tech's Taijah Campbell
It's become part of the basketball vernacular, but we've never been crazy about the phrase, "She makes other players better" because, well, it's simply not true.

Think about it. Say Player A can't go to her left or hit from 15 feet. You can surround her with four starters from the WNBA champion Minnesota Lynx and she still won't be able to go to her left or hit from 15 feet. The only person that can truly make Player A better is Player A, by getting her butt in the gym.

Now, can certain players make those around them "more effective?" Absolutely. Someone that can draw defenders, set up others or just create extra space on the floor can allow Player A to mask her limitations and do what she does best. She's no better. But with the right supporting cast, she can be a hell of a lot more effective.

We saw this phenomenon play out for Virginia Tech Monday as the Hokies topped Old Dominion 73-61 at ODU's Constant Center.

As we all know by now, the Hokies weren't exactly a great shooting team last year (how's that for being charitable?). But with newcomers Vanessa Paunousis and Maddison Penn now capable of stretching defenses - Penn stepping into and draining a 25-footer early in the first half was the first "Wow!" moment of the night - holdovers Taijah Campbell, Monet Tellier and Hannah Young were about as effective as anyone could have hoped.

The slender 6-3 Campbell burned ODU with three putbacks in the first half alone, made her first eight field goal attempts and finished with 19 points on 9-10 shooting and 11 rebounds. Tellier also had 19 points on 7 of 12 shooting and is making 52 percent of her shots through two games. This from a 37.5 percent shooter a year ago who went 0 for 9 from the field last season against ODU. And Young made half of her eight shots and slammed the door on the Lady Monarchs with a pair of late daggers.

If you're scoring at home, that's 20-of-30 shooting from three starters. It's not going to be like that every night. But we can certainly see why coach Dennis Wolff doesn't hesitate to call this the best team he's had at Tech.

Cleaning out the closet

- The Hokies prevailed despite a quiet night from starting forward Uju Ugoka, who picked up two fouls inside the first two minutes, sat out the rest of the first half and spent just 10 minutes on court. Ugoka, the highest-ranking Hokie at No. 11 on our Elite 25 list of the best returning players in the state, averaged 12.5 points and 8.5 rebounds last season.

- Lady Monarchs senior guard Stephanie Gardner (game-high 20 points) kept the Lady Monarchs in it by scoring all nine ODU points during a mid-second half run that turned a 46-41 deficit into a 52-50 lead. Don't know if it was fatigue, Tech's defense doing a better job on her or what, but Gardner did not attempt a shot over the final 7:00.

- A series of quick whistles threatened to spoil the entertainment value of the proceedings, but it wasn't as though these were hack officials out there making the calls. Lisa Mattingly is considered one of the top refs in the business and was part of the crew for last year's NCAA championship game. And Maj Forsberg has been a WNBA ref for years in addition to working high-level college games.

- Good things happened for ODU when freshman Odegua Oigbokie (9 points on 4-of-7 shooting and 4 rebounds in 12 minutes) was on the floor. She's a keeper.

- Meanwhile, it was a quiet night for ODU starters Tiffany Minor (4 points of 1-of-5 shooting and 4 rebounds in 32 minutes), Galaisha Goodhope (no field goals, 2 points and 2 assists in 25 minutes) and Chelisa Painter (4 points in 17 minutes and just 1:50 of playing time in the second half).

- The absence of injured guard Ashley Betz-White - can we now call her the Blonde Bomber? - was clearly felt as the Lady Monarchs could have used her zone-busting shooting ability down the stretch. Here's hoping she heals up and can suit up soon.

- Comparisons to last year's 55-35 ODU decision in Blacksburg are natural, but they're hardly an apples-to-apples deal. Of the eight Tech players who played at least 10 minutes Monday, only three participated in last year's game. As for ODU, Gardner and Painter were spectators when the teams met last November.

- So much for homecourt advantage - the road team has prevailed - by double digits - in each of the three meetings between these teams the past three years.

- Finally, attendance was announced at 2,449, and while we'll take ODU's word for that, we couldn't shake the feeling that a Lady Monarchs-Hokies matchup in Norfolk should be a bigger deal than a quarter-full Constant Center would indicate. Now that both teams are obviously on the rise, here's hoping future meetings become just that.

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