SEATTLE (AP) — Throughout this historic season for Virginia Tech, coach Kenny Brooks has repeated the belief that Elizabeth Kitley is the best player for the Hokies, but Georgia Amoore is the most important.
It was proven again Saturday with Amoore carrying Virginia Tech to a level it’s never reached before in program history.
Amoore scored a career-high 29 points and the top-seeded Hokies advanced to the Elite Eight for the first time in school history with a 73-64 win over No. 4 seed Tennessee.
“I just want to win. All we have to do is keep winning to get people to talk about us, so we’ll keep trying to win,” Amoore said.
The Hokies (30-4) won their 14th straight game overall and advanced to a matchup with No. 3 seed Ohio State in the Seattle 3 Regional final on Monday night. Ohio State topped UConn in the first semifinal, ending the Huskies’ streak of 14 straight Final Four appearances.
Amoore and the Hokies used a dominant stretch spanning the end of the second quarter and beginning of the third that built enough of a cushion to hold off Tennessee’s valiant rally over the final 12 minutes.
Amoore attempted 19 3-pointers in the Hokies’ second-round win, but shot only 14 this time around.
“She’s only doing now what we see all the time. When the kids have to go out and guard her, they really tighten up their shoestrings because they know that there’s something that can happen,” Brooks said. “But she’s phenomenal. She’s as good as anybody in the country, in my opinion. She’s playing with the utmost confidence and she’s been playing like this ever since we really started this stretch.”
Kayana Traylor added 14 points and Kitley scored 12 points despite sitting a big chunk of the first half with foul trouble. The ACC Tournament champions had reached the Sweet 16 only once previously in school history and are now one win away from the Final Four.
“I’m just so happy that I landed at such an amazing spot where we did exactly what we wanted to,” Kitley said. “And it hasn’t been easy and it’s taken coach Brooks a few years, but what he’s done with the program and the amount of time is incredible.”
Jordan Horston led Tennessee (25-12) with 17 points. Rickea Jackson scored 15 and Jordan Walker added 12.
The Lady Vols reached the regional semifinals for the second straight season, but haven’t been to the Elite Eight since 2016. And it was their offense that was so impressive in the first two rounds that disappeared against the Hokies.
“I felt like we were locked in and focused before the game. We had good energy in warmup, so nothing with that. But we just were a little stagnant on the offensive end,” Walker said.
The Lady Vols scored 95 points in their first-round win over Saint Louis and followed up with 94 in an impressive blowout of Toledo. But Tennessee relied too much on perimeter shots early on, to the point coach Kellie Harper yelled at her team “who are we?” after attempting their 12th 3-pointer of the first half.
Tennessee made just 3 of 17 attempts from beyond the arc against the Hokies after making 11 of 22 in the win over Toledo.
“They did a good job with our first attack and we got really impatient,” Harper said. “I thought we were really stagnant offensively, and therefore we were settling. We took way too many threes for us in the first half.”
The Hokies closed the first half with a flourish, scoring the final eight points to take a 35-22 lead at the break. Amoore started the second half with her fourth 3-pointer of the game and Kitley scored on the interior and quickly a five-point game ballooned to a 40-22 Virginia Tech lead.
Tennessee trimmed the deficit to nine by the end of the third quarter and its surge continued into the fourth quarter. The Lady Vols capped the 19-4 run with Jasmine Powell’s 3-pointer with 6:05 left and pulled with 53-52.
But turnovers and fouls started to mount and for the Lady Vols and Virginia Tech pushed its lead back to 11 on Amoore’s jumper with 2:10 remaining.
“It was a challenge. I’m glad we pulled away from it,” Amoore said. “It’s what we’re going to see with Ohio State with their press. Glad we got a little taste of it today. Now we know.”