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Around the NCAAW: Elizabeth Kitley, No. 13 Virginia Tech top No. 3 NC State in final second

No. 13 Virginia Tech knocks No. 3 NC State from the ranks of the undefeated, using a 14-2 closing run to come back to win a last-second thriller in Blacksburg. The Hokies’ upset highlights a week of high-flying NCAAW action.

NC State v Virginia Tech
Virginia Tech’s Elizabeth Kitley scores over NC State’s Mimi Collins in the Hokies upset win.
Photo by Ryan Hunt/Getty Images

Last week, we learned about the media future of women’s college basketball, with the sport remaining part of the NCAA’s bundled deal with ESPN for the next eight seasons. The continued, excellent on-court performances from players and teams serve as further proof that women’s college basketball deserves that media investment and attention—and more. Here’s some of the best from the past week:

Wolfpack nipped by Kitley, Hokies

And then there were three. No. 1 South Carolina (14-0, 2-0), No. 2 UCLA (14-0, 3-0) and No. 6 Baylor (14-0, 3-0) maintained their undefeated marks, with respective wins over Mississippi State (13-4, 0-2), Oregon State (12-2, 1-2) and Houston (9-5, 0-3) over the weekend.

But, No. 3 NC State (14-1, 2-1) is undefeated no more. Grad center Elizabeth Kitley’s game-winning bucket with less than one second remaining gave No. 13 Virginia Tech (12-2, 3-0) the 63-62 comeback win.

After three quarters, the Wolfpack appeared well on their way to a 15th win. With starting grad center River Baldwin out due to injury, freshman guard Zoe Brooks got the start, equipping NC State with a smaller, speedier attack. Offensive aggression, combined with success from behind the arc from senior guard Madison Hayes and freshman guard Laci Steele, earned NC State a rather comfortable advantage through much of the afternoon.

Defensively, the Wolfpack also induced the Hokies’ stars—Kitley and senior guard Georgia Amoore—into more missed shots than expected in the first half. However, the Virginia Tech tandem did enough to keep the Hokies in striking distance, even as they fell behind by as many as 13 points. Then, in the fourth quarter, Kitley, in particular, rose to the occasion. She provided a powerful presence at the rim, as the Wolfpack repeatedly struggled to finish their forays to the basket. During the game’s final eight minutes, NC State made a single shot from the field—what looked to be a crafty, clutch game-winning layup from junior guard Saniya Rivers.

However, with less the two seconds remaining, the Hokies expertly executed a well-designed sideline out of bounds of play, with Cayla King lobbing a perfect pass to Kitley, her high school teammate. Composed on the catch, Kitley took full advantage of her 6-foot-6 frame and soft touch to covert the putback as Rivers and grad forward Mimi Collins flew toward her.

Kitley ended the afternoon with yet another double-double, finishing with a game-high 27 points and 12 rebounds. Although only 9-for-24 from the floor, Amoore added 21 points and seven assists. Hayes led NC State with a career-high 21 points and nine rebounds; Rivers had 12 points, six rebounds and three assists.

HBCU highlights

Grambling State’s new year’s resolution? Get buckets. And buckets and buckets and buckets.

On Tuesday, the Lady Tigers scored 159 points and won by 141 points, the greatest margin of victory in Division I women’s basketball history. Grambling decimated the College of Biblical Studies, 159-18. Eight Lady Tigers scored in double figures, led by freshman guard Arianna Mosley’s 27 points. Off the bench, junior guard Kahia Warmsley finished with a double-double of 20 points and 10 boards. Remarkably, Grambling only made five 3s; instead, 30 offensive rebounds and 39 steals resulted in an overwhelming possession advantage.

On Saturday, Grambling State followed up the historic demolition with another big win, topping Prairie View, 82-54. In head coach Courtney Simmons’ first season, the Lady Tigers now are 7-5 and 1-0 in the SWAC.

Here are three more HBCU teams that deserve a closer look in 2024:

Norfolk State (11-4, 1-0)

The back-to-back MEAC champions, Norfolk State appears poised for a third-straight conference crown. Especially now that Diamond Johnson is in green and gold.

After a season at Rutgers and two years at NC State, Johnson is now hooping for the Spartans. She was not able to suit up until Dec. 16, three days after a West Virginia court issued a 14-day temporary restraining order that granted multi-time transfers immediate eligibility for 14 days. So, Johnson’s status is not totally secure. However, the senior guard is making the most of her time on the court. She’s scored 20 or more points in four of the five games in which she has played, highlighted by 26 points, eight rebounds, six assists and four steals in a 96-55 win over UNC Wilmington. Hopefully, bureaucratic bull will not prevent Johnson from continue to show off her skills. She recently told SLAM that she hopes to demonstrate that HBCUs present a viable pathway to the WNBA.

Throughout the 2023-24 season, junior forward Kierra Wheeler has been tearing it up for the Spartans. She’s an automatic double-double, averaging 18.4 points and 10.1 boards per game. Recently, she registered her second game this season of at least 30 points. Fueled by 11 offensive rebounds, Wheeler dropped 30 on Longwood. She also finished with 16 total boards and four steals as the Spartans got the 76-59 win.

Favored to again win the MEAC Tournament and automatically qualify for the NCAA Tournament, a Norfolk State team led by a Johnson-Wheeler duo profiles as Cinderella squad with upset potential. On Saturday, the Spartans opened conference play with authority, smoking South Carolina State, 94-33.

Bethune-Cookman (10-4, 1-0)

So far, Bethune-Cookman, not Grambling, has been the SWAC’s most successful team, sitting at 10-4.

On Saturday, the B-CU survived a fourth-quarter comeback bid from FAMU to secure their first conference win, 80-76. Prior to that, B-CU closed 2023 with a down-to-the-wire win over Mercer, 60-58. With four seconds remaining, grad guard Chanel Wilson converted the game-winning layup.

For the season, Wilson has been the Wildcats best player, leading the team with 13.1 points and 3.7 assists per game. Junior center Kayla Clark is the interior force for B-CU, averaging 9.8 points and 8.1 boards per game.

Bethune-Cookman was projected to finish sixth in the SWAC, with Jackson State, which faced a tougher non-conference schedule, the near-unanimous favorite. B-CU will have ample opportunity to exceed expectations, hosting Grambling on Jan. 13, facing a tough test at Arkansas-Pine Bluff on Jan. 22 and meeting Jackson State on Jan. 27.

NC A&T (6-6, 0-1)

Before their big win at Mercer, Bethune-Cookman fell to NC A&T, 66-47.

The Aggies’ most impressive win of the season, however, came in mid-November, when they traveled from Greensboro to Winston-Salem and took down the Demon Deacons of Wake Forest. It was NC A&T’s first win over a Power 5 team since 2019.

Throughout the season, the Aggies have enjoyed solid contributions from the trio of senior guard D’Mya Tucker, junior guard Maleia Bracone and junior guard Jordyn Dorsey. The three were most responsible for NC A&T’s win over B-CU. Tucker scored 20 points, Bracone scored 18 and Dorsey added 15. That production resembles their season-long offensive efforts, with Tucker at 12.6 points, Bracone at 12.1 and Dorsey at 11.5. When the Aggies cruised to a win over Averett on the final afternoon of 2023, Bracone scored the 1,000th point of her career.

The Aggies just missed an opportunity to open CAA play with a statement win, falling 63-58 to the College of Charleston. Although NC A&T won or tied three of the game’s four quarters, a particularly poor second period sunk the Aggies.

New year, same great hoops

The turn of the calendar to 2024 did not slow down the spectacular statistical performances produced by women’s college hoopers. Yes, we’ve all seen the fireworks from Caitlin Clark. Here are some other stupendous efforts that should not be overlooked:

  • Texas A&M-Corpus Christi grad big Alecia Westbrook posted an efficient 27 points, finishing 9-for-10 from the field as she also added eight rebounds, three assists, three steals and a block, to power her team past Incarnate World, 63-61, on Saturday.
  • Iona senior guard Natalia Otkhmezuri lit up the nets on Saturday, hitting five 3-pointers as she scored 38 points in the Gaels’ 70-60 victory over Marist.
  • UT-San Antonio scored the program’s first AAC win on Saturday, with career highs—a 32-point and 19-rebound double-double—from junior forward Elyssa Coleman propelling the Roadrunners past Wichita State, 74-60.
  • Behind senior guard Litau King, Pitt gave Notre Dame all they could handle on Thursday, with the Panthers falling by five points, 71-66, to the Irish. King had a career night with 34 points and 13 assists. She also added two assists and three blocks.
  • Senior guard Jayla Brooks turned in an all-round effort as Arkansas-Little Rock took care of business against Southern Illinois-Edwardsville, 79-59, on Thursday, posting 25 points, six boards, four assists and four steals. Brooks also went 5-for-7 from 3.
  • New Orleans junior guard Brianna Ellis helped her squad get the 88-78 comeback win over Texas A&M-Commerce on Thursday, finishing with 24 points, nine boards, six assists and three steals.
  • An efficient double-double of 20 points and 10 rebounds from junior forward Tommisha Lampkin pushed North Texas past Temple, 74-63, on Tuesday. The victory also was the first AAC win for first-year head coach Jason Burton.
  • Junior forward Emma Trawally Porta led Detroit Mercy past Northern Kentucky, 67-55, on Monday with a 23-point and 14-rebound double-double. She also swatted two shots.
  • Arkansas-Pine Bluff junior guard Coriah Beck crushed it in a 103-87 win over McNeese State on the final afternoon of 2023, draining eight 3-pointers as she scored a school-record 32 points. She also chipped in four boards, four steals and two blocks.
  • Harvard junior guard Elena Rodriquez stuffed the stat sheet in the Crimson’s 88-58 rout of Delaware, closing out 2023 with a career-high 33 points, 11 rebounds, five assists, three steals and two blocks.
  • Although she has been excellent for the No. 8 Buffaloes all season, grad guard Jaylyn Sherrod opened Pac-12 with her best effort yet on Saturday, Dec. 30. Her career-high 34 points, supported by four boards, four assists and six steals, spurred Colorado to a 76-65 win over Utah, while also earning her Pac-12 Player of the Week honors. Sherrod then helped the Buffs escape with a win at Arizona, 75-74, on Friday night. Her and-1 bucket and free throw with just under two minutes remaining were the most important of her team-high 18 points.
  • UNLV senior center Desi-Rae Young helped the Lady Rebels begin Mountain West play with a blowout victory over Utah State, 107-68, on Saturday, Dec. 30. She dropped 31 points, grabbed nine boards, and tossed four assists, while also adding a steal and a block.
  • Albany freshman forward Deja Evans posted a double-double of 26 points and 17 rebounds—eight offensive, nine defensive—as her team rolled past Navy, 87-56, on Saturday, Dec. 30. She was named Player of the Week and Rookie of the Week for the American East Conference for her efforts.

A look ahead

Within the top 25, it’s a big week for Texas and Stanford. As the Longhorns look to continue to adjust to life without Rori Harmon, they face two ranked Big 12 foes in TCU and Kansas State. Stanford hits the road for a tough Pac-12 back-to-back, playing at Utah and at Colorado.

Wednesday, Jan. 10

No. 23 TCU at No. 10 Texas (8 p.m. ET, Longhorn Network)

Friday, Jan. 12

No. 8 Stanford at No. 15 Utah (8 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network)

Saturday, Jan. 13

No. 10 Texas at No. 11 Kansas State (2 p.m. ET, ESPNU)

Sunday, Jan. 14

No. 13 Virginia Tech at No. 22 Florida State (1 p.m. ET, ESPN)

No. 8 Stanford at No. 5 Colorado (2 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network)

No. 2 UCLA vs. No. 9 USC (5 p.m. ET)