GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) — Kenny Brooks walked over to an end-zone section of Virginia Tech fans and gave a fist-pumping release as his players climbed steps to cut down a piece of the net.
A few minutes later, Brooks was up there himself, snipping down the final strand hanging from the rim before turning to Hokies fans and leading a “Let’s go Hokies!” chant.
The moment had finally arrived for Brooks and his eighth-ranked Hokies, who continued their late-season tear by beating Louisville 75-67 on Sunday to win the program’s first Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament title.
“Unbelievable, unbelievable,” Brooks said on the court as his players celebrated around him.
It came with another strong scoring effort from Georgia Amoore, who scored 25 points and earned tournament MVP honors for the third-seeded Hokies (27-4). There was two-time league player of the year Elizabeth Kitley adding another 20 points in her role as the inside constant. And there was Taylor Soule, emerging from a scoreless first half to provide the third-quarter lift that helped keep the Hokies on course for their 11th straight win.
Virginia Tech’s first trip to the ACC title game into a strong finishing act, pushing to a double-digit lead before halftime and keeping the Cardinals at arm’s distance the rest of the way. And that capped a three-game run in Greensboro in which the Hokies trailed for a total of 3 minutes, 15 seconds — all in the first quarter of Sunday’s game.
“I think all of us knew we were going to win,” Kitley said. “From the start of the tournament, we’ve been talking about it. Obviously we’ve been taking it day by day, game by game. But definitely throughout the game we all knew that we had it and we didn’t lose our cool, even when they were hitting big shots.”
Before Sunday, the Hokies had been as far as the ACC semifinals only once since joining the league for the 2004-05 season — and that came last year. Now they’re celebrating a milestone victory under Brooks, who has built this program to the top of the league in Year 7.
When the horn finally sounded, Kitley and Kayana Traylor skipped to midcourt to meet the rushing mob of players and coaches from the Hokies sideline headed for a midcourt celebration as the streamers and confetti dropped from the Greensboro Coliseum rafters.
Amoore earned MVP honors of the tournament, while Soule was soon taking photos of teammates lining up to pose with the championship trophy. A bit later, she stood on the stage choking back tears while teammate Clara Ford — who had transferred with her from Boston College — had her arm around her.
“I’m proud,” Soule said.
Chrislyn Carr scored a season-high 27 points to lead fourth-seeded Louisville (23-11), which fell behind by 13 in the first half as Amoore and Kitley got going. The Cardinals got no closer than seven points after halftime until the frantic final seconds, with the Hokies showing the toughness and resilience to turn away every push by Louisville and close this one out.
“I was proud of our kids,” Louisville coach Jeff Walz said. “I thought we kept fighting, continued to fight, and there was no quit in them.”
Louisville made its closest push in the frantic final seconds to within 73-67 on Merissah Russell’s 3-pointer with 28 seconds left. But Kitley hit two critical free throws with 15.1 seconds to go that pushed the lead back to eight for what turned out to be the final margin.
This was the Cardinals’ fourth finals appearance, the first being a title win in 2018 followed by losses to Notre Dame in 2019 and North Carolina State on a late basket in 2021. Their first two wins came against Wake Forest and No. 10 Notre Dame, which had taken regular-season meetings against them.
Louisville: The Cardinals started the year ranked No. 7 but fell out of the poll before December and had remained unranked the rest of the year. But they entered this game having gone 7-2 since the start of February, with both losses coming to the Fighting Irish. That has put them within reach of potentially hosting opening-round NCAA Tournament games,.
Virginia Tech: The Hokies lost since falling Jan. 26 at now-No. 13 Duke. That included a road win at No. 18 North Carolina on Kitley’s last-second shot last week, then romps against Miami and the Blue Devils through the first two games in Greensboro before cutting down the nets Sunday. They’ll carry all that momentum into the NCAAs.
Soule had all 13 of her points after halftime, including nine in the third quarter with multiple finishes in the paint as the Hokies poked and probed the Cardinals’ trapping pressure.
Both Louisville and Virginia Tech await their NCAA Tournament seeding, with the Hokies holding the ACC’s automatic bid to the field.
Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap
AP women’s college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/womens-college-basketball and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-womens-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25