Monday, January 31, 2000
by Will Stewart

Big Hoops Weekend Goes Bust

At best, this weekend was a chance for the Hokie womenís basketball team to take over first place in the Atlantic-10 West, and for the Hokie menís basketball team to continue their drive towards the NIT and perhaps impress a few skeptical fans along the way.

At worst, the women could lose two and put their chances for an A-10 West title in serious jeopardy, and the men could tank a crucial home game at a time when Tech fans were taking notice and pondering a return to Cassell Coliseum.

The worst came to pass.

First, on Friday night, the women dropped a surprise game to Dayton when the Flyers rode the back of red-hot Christi Hester to a big win. Then, on Saturday, the men, who had looked good in recent home games and had fought hard in a neutral court loss to UVa, put on one of the ugliest performances to see the light of day and lost a 49-41 snooze fest to a mediocre UMass team. And then, to finish out the horrid weekend, the women fell to arch-rival Xavier in a close one, 64-60.

All in all, what was to be a big weekend turned out to be a nightmare for Hokie hoops fans. The clock is starting to wind down on this hoops season, and both teams, menís and womenís, took giant steps backwards this weekend at a time when basketball teams are yearning to step forward, instead.

Dayton 69, Virginia Tech 65 (women)

When I was a young man, from the ages of about 18 to 31, I played in hundreds of pick-up basketball games. I was a mediocre basketball player. I wasnít bad, but I wasnít particularly quick or tall, I couldnít jump, and I wasnít a very good shooter. My best asset was a total selflessness with the ball, which made me the perfect point guard for my ball-hawking friends. I brought the ball up court every time, and I always passed off, and if I had the ball in a fast-break situation, I looked to pass nearly 90% of the time. I played with a lot of players who could score, so it was a good formula. Call me the Al Young of the folks I played with.

Still, I can think of three games in my pick-up career where I had the good fortune to fall into "The Zone," that perfect state of athletic being where I could do no wrong. I can remember on each of these occasions playing as if in a fog, throwing the ball into a basket that seemed three times larger than normal, without paying heed to form or situation. I can remember scoring 7-10 of my teamís points in a 15-point game on those occasions. No one on the court could stop me, and the only reason I didnít score more was because at heart, I was a true point guard who didnít want to hog the ball and didnít look to score.

Still, itís a testament to those three games that I remember them in detail, and I donít doubt that Iíll be able to recall them ten, twenty, or thirty years from now. Sometimes, "The Zone" just happens, and you go with it, and you never forget what it feels like, though most of the time, you can almost never recapture it again through any effort of your own.

On Friday night, Christi Hester of Dayton fell into "The Zone," as she is apparently wont to do against Virginia Tech. The Hokies put on a few runs throughout this game but made the mistake of allowing Dayton to stay close enough that Hester could win the ball game by herself.

Hester only scored 27 points, but I can vouch from my front row seats for the fact that it felt like 50. As the game wound down and the Hokies allowed Dayton to stay close, everyone in Cassell Coliseum couldnít escape the sinking feeling that #30 in the visitorsí uniform couldnít be stopped.

You could delve into the stats and analyze the hell out of this one if you felt so inclined, but the bottom line is, when it came down to crunch time, Hester was unstoppable. She picked the Dayton team up on her back and carried them the entire second half.

The Hokies started the game out with a 10-2 run, but then let the Flyers tie it at 29. Tech forged ahead for a 36-30 half time lead, but in the crucial opening minutes of the second half, coughed up six straight points and allowed the Flyers to tie it at 36.

From there, it was back and forth. Fast forward to the two-minute point, and Dayton had a 65-60 lead. Techís Chrystal Starling, who continues to develop into one of Techís best players, hit a silky-smooth three-pointer to close the gap to 65-63, and then on defense, the Hokies did the unthinkable, stealing the ball from the red-hot Hester.

Starling hit a two-pointer to tie it at 65 with 22 seconds to go, but it surprised no one when Hester took the ball on a clear-out and scored the winning jumper with 3.6 seconds to go. She then stole a long inbounds pass, was fouled, and scored two more free throws for the final 69-65 margin.

Hester scored all night long by taking her defender off the dribble, and when the help defense arrived, she would either pull up and nail the jumper or dish off for the layup. It was frustrating to watch, but sometimes, those things happen. Unfortunately for the Hokies, it meant a loss that they could ill afford to a .500 team.

Massachusetts 49, Virginia Tech 41 (men)

This game was lost in the first 9 minutes.

Riding some very good and inspired performances, the Hokie men came into Cassell Saturday and did the one thing they could least afford to do: they tanked the first ten minutes of the game.

UMass raced out to a 12-0 lead and extended it to 18-4 before Tech woke up. From the ten-minute mark onward, the Tech men put up a good fight, posting a 14-2 run that closed the gap to 20-18, but then UMass scored the last bucket of the half to go up 22-18 heading into half time.

Much like the Hokie women the night before, the men took a beating in the crucial beginning of the second half. Despite the fact that Ricky Stokes talked at half time about the importance of guarding UMass guard Monty Mack, Mack hit three straight three-pointers to open the second half. UMass put together a 17-6 run to open the half, the Hokies were down 39-24, and this game was over.

Tech would attempt a comeback, but erasing a 15-point deficit in a low-scoring game like this is something that canít be done twice. The Hokies eventually fell 49-41. A three-pointer by Andre Ray with 16 seconds to go is the only thing that kept this game from being an all-time mark for scoring futility in Cassell Coliseum.

Dennis Mims was the only Hokie who showed up to play. He was 7-12 for 18 points. The rest of the team was 10-43 for 23 points. On a day when over 4600 fans showed up to check out a possibly resurgent Tech basketball team, the Hokies laid an egg, and they find themselves staring at a near-impossible road to an NIT bid. No matter how you slice it, this game was bad for Tech, period.

Kudos to Andre Ray, the only Tech player to speak with the media after the game. As always, Andre was polite, well-spoken, and a great representative of Virginia Tech. On a day when the rest of the team hid from the media, Andre, who was 3-9 from the field and only scored 8 points in 34 minutes, showed up and was gracious to UMass and classy in defeat. Andre earned his undergraduate degree last May and is currently pursuing a graduate degree in urban affairs, and as always, he cast a good light on Virginia Tech. This young man, a true student-athlete, will be missed when his eligibility is over.

Xavier 64, Virginia Tech 60 (women)

If you had told me coming into this game that the Hokies would hold Xavierís two leading scorers, Taru Tuukkanen and Hokie-killer Nicole Levundusky, to 17 total points, I would have liked Techís odds in this one.

Itís not hard to figure out where the Hokiesí chances to win this one went south. Midway through the first half, Techís Chrystal Starling picked up her second foul and headed to the bench, and the Hokies went into the tank. Tech led 18-17 with less than ten minutes to go in the first half, but Xavier pasted a 17-7 run on the Hokies to take a 34-25 lead into the break. Tech would never recover.

On the heels of the Dayton loss, this one was a crusher. In a game where the crowd may have exceeded 5,000 on any other day, heavy snow in the New River Valley limited attendance to just over 2200, negating a significant advantage the Hokies might otherwise have had.

The loss dropped the Hokies to 12-7 overall, 5-3 in the conference, and into a third-place tie with the same Dayton team that knocked them off on Friday. Tech is now one down in the loss column to Xavier and two down to GW in the A-10 West.

          

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