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Preview: No. 11 Virginia Tech Hokies get another shot at defensive-minded No. 9 Duke Blue Devils

The last time the Virginia Tech Hokies lost a game, it was to the Duke Blue Devils, who have used lockdown defense and rebounding to climb their way to the top of the ACC standings. The Hokies and Blue Devils will square off again, this time on Virginia Tech’s home floor.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: DEC 30 Women’s - Duke at Virginia Tech
Virginia Tech guard No. 5 Georgia Amoore (left), who was recently named USBWA Player of the Week, leads the Hokies against an elite Duke Blue Devils defense.
Photo by Brian Bishop/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The No. 9 Duke Blue Devils (22-3; 12-2 ACC) will take on the No. 11 Virginia Tech Hokies (20-4; 10-4 ACC) for the second time this season on Thursday. This matchup between the No. 1 and No. 3 teams in the ACC standings is scheduled to tip-off at 7 p.m. ET and will be broadcast on the ACC Network.

Both the Blue Devils and Hokies have won four straight games, with Virginia Tech’s last loss coming to Duke back on Jan. 26. The Blue Devils held the Hokies to just 34.7 percent shooting from the field (including a 1-of-9 performance from reigning ACC Player of the Year Elizabeth Kitley) and 55 total points, which was the second-lowest point total of the season for Virginia Tech, and were led by sophomore guard Shayeann Day-Wilson, who scored 18 points.

That kind of defensive effort is nothing new for Duke, which has leaned on its defense for the entirety of the 2022-23 regular season. The Blue Devils currently rank No. 3 in Division I in defensive efficiency, according to Her Hoop Stats, allowing 73.1 points per 100 possessions, and have excelled at both blocking shots (13.8 percent block rate; No. 4 in Division I) and finishing possessions with defensive rebounds (74.1 percent defensive rebounding rate; No. 21). Duke has also done an excellent job at forcing stagnation in opposing offenses, leading the country in opposing assist/turnover ratio at just 0.41.

Duke head coach Kara Lawson praised her team’s effort on defense after its recent win against the Miami Hurricanes, pointing out in her postgame presser that Duke’s own offense (season-low eight turnovers) and defensive rebounding were key in the victory.

It’s clear that Virginia Tech needs to be more efficient with the basketball on Thursday if it’s going to split its season series with Duke, and getting Kitley involved will likely be the Hokies’ top priority. Kitley’s four points on Jan. 26 were a season-low and one of the two occasions on which she’s scored in single figures this season; the 6-foot-6 center, who is a candidate to win the Lisa Leslie Award for 2023, is averaging 18 points, 10.8 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game, and the Hokies are at their best when they’re playing through her.

Virginia Tech isn’t a one-player show, however. Guard Georgia Amoore, in particular, has been scorching-hot as of late, totaling 52 points, 11 made 3-pointers and 15 assists in her last two games. Amoore, whose shooting range extends well beyond the 3-point line, was recently named co-Player of the Week (with Villanova’s Maddy Siegrist) by the USBWA.

It’s entirely possible that the rematch between Duke and Virginia Tech will be another low-scoring affair, as both teams play at a more methodical pace and excel at defensive rebounding. That’s exactly the type of game Duke has been winning all season long, so Virginia Tech will need to get its stars going early in order to even the season series.