Feb. 9, 2003
BLACKSBURG, Va. – Virginia Tech freshman Carrie Mason converted an old-fashioned three-point play with 13.1 seconds remaining to lift the Hokies to a 53-50 BIG EAST Conference victory over Notre Dame Sunday afternoon at Cassell Coliseum. It is Virginia Tech’s first win over the Irish in five series meetings and marks the fourth consecutive weekend in which Notre Dame has played a game decided by five points or less.
Mason’s shot was the final act in a thrilling two-hour drama that featured 14 ties, 12 lead changes, and saw neither side lead by more than four points the entire game. The Irish had a chance to send the game to overtime, but sophomore forward Jacqueline Batteast had her three-point attempt from the left wing rattle out with one second to play.
Batteast led Notre Dame in scoring with 13 points and set a new career high with five blocked shots. Sophomore forward Katy Flecky chipped in with 11 points off the bench, marking her second consecutive double-figure scoring game. Ieva Kublina scored a game-high 21 points, including 11-of-11 free throws, to lead three players in double digits for Virginia Tech. Kublina also tied a Notre Dame opponent record with seven blocked shots, matching the mark set three times previously (most recently by Pittsburgh’s Nickeia Morris on Feb. 15, 1998).
Sunday’s game was decided at the free throw line. The Irish came into the contest as the second-best free throw shooting team in the BIG EAST at 74.5 percent, but they struggled at the stripe all afternoon, making only 15 of 23 charity tosses (65.2 percent). Conversely, the Hokies were extremely solid from the line, hitting a Notre Dame opponent season-best 91.7 percent of their free throws (22 of 24).
Virginia Tech’s aptitude at the foul line made up for its problems from the floor. For the second consecutive game, Notre Dame held an opponent below 30 percent shooting from the field, limiting the Hokies to a .286 ratio (14-49) on Sunday. The Irish also controlled the glass by a 34-31 count, but they also turned the ball over 21 times, compared to 16 giveaways for Virginia Tech.
Notre Dame (13-8, 5-5) had three four-point leads in the first half, while the Hokies had one. The Irish opened up a 23-19 edge with 2:07 remaining in the period on a layup by freshman forward Courtney LaVere. However, the hosts rallied to tie the game on four Kublina free throws before Flecky banged in a three-pointer from the right wing with 32 seconds left in the period, giving Notre Dame a 26-23 lead at the break. The Irish held Virginia Tech to just one field goal over the final 12:33 of the first half, but the Hokies made 11 of 12 free throws in that span to remain within striking distance.
Notre Dame opened up three more four-point leads in the second half, the last coming at 44-40 on a layup by junior guard Le’Tania Severe with six minutes to play. A three-point play by Kublina briefly gave Virginia Tech the lead, but Batteast made two free throws and later added a layup, giving the Irish a 48-46 advantage at the four-minute mark. However, Kerri Gardin tied the game for the Hokies on a jumper 29 seconds later, setting the stage for a frantic final minute.
Kublina banked in a short runner in the lane with 51 seconds left, putting Virginia Tech back in front, 50-48. After turning the ball over on its previous three possessions, Notre Dame got the ball in the hands of senior guard Alicia Ratay, and the Irish captain worked her way to the free throw line, courtesy of a Gardin foul with 34 seconds to go. Ratay, the ninth-best free throw shooter in NCAA history, calmly stepped up and swished both charities to knot the score for the 14th and final time. On the ensuing possession, the Hokies worked the ball around to Mason on the right wing, who pump-faked Batteast into the air, then hit a 15-foot jumper as Batteast fouled her while trying to recover. Mason canned the bonus free throw, and the Hokies had the victory, their 11th in as many games at Cassell Coliseum this year.
Notre Dame comes home to the Joyce Center Wednesday night to take on St. John’s in the second of two meetings between the clubs. The Irish claimed a 71-42 victory over the Red Storm back on Jan. 14 at SJU’s Alumni Hall. Tipoff time for the rematch is slated for 7 p.m. (EST).
— ND —