Kitley injury upends ACC tourney

Action tips off in Greensboro, with NC State one of the favorites

Elizabeth Kitley puts up a shot for Virginia Tech in Sunday’s season finale. Kitley, the likely ACC Player of the Year, was injured later in the game. (AP)

The ACC Women’s Basketball Tournament took on a very different look on the last day of the regular season.

With the seeds set and the teams ready to head for Greensboro, the top-seeded Virginia Tech Hokies suddenly saw their title hopes take a big hit as their best player went down with a knee injury. Elizabeth Kitley, the ACC Player of the Year, went down in the third quarter of the Hokies’ regular season finale against Virginia.

Kitley had won four straight ACC Player of the Week awards and led the league in rebounding. She also finished second in scoring, blocks and shooting percentage.

The injury left the Hokies in shock and head coach Kenny Brooks in tears after Sunday’s game. A day later, the team still wasn’t sure how serious the injury would be.

“We don’t know anything yet,” Brooks said on the coaches’ teleconference. “We’re just waiting and praying for good results.”

The Hokies still enter the ACC Tournament as the regular season champions and top seed, but, with five ranked teams and a projected nine tournament teams in the 15-team field, Kitley’s injury makes an already crowded field wide open as teams vie for the automatic bid and one last chance to impress the NCAA selection committee before the field and seeds are announced.

Clearly, the stakes are high, and the ACC teams from North Carolina are right in the thick of things. Three of the four in-state teams are projected to make the NCAA field.

Here’s a look at the top contenders and the local teams as the action heads to Greensboro starting Wednesday.

Visiting contenders:

The cupboard is far from bare at Virginia Tech, even if Kitley is out. Georgia Amoore is the ACC’s sixth-leading scorer and second-biggest threat from three. She also led the league in assists. Matilda Ekh and Cayla King give the Hokies three of the top six three-point shooters in the league. Olivia Summiel provides rebounding and will need to be a force inside to help keep defenses honest and open things up for the outside shooters.

No. 14 Notre Dame knows something about losing a top contributor. Olivia Miles went down in February of 2023. The team held out hope that she would be able to make a return to the court this season but finally pulled the plug on that last month. Hannah Hidalgo led the ACC in scoring and won conference Rookie of the Year honors.

No. 20 Syracuse and No. 24 Louisville are also teams to watch.

Wake Forest hoping for miracle:

With contenders as far as the eye can see, Wake Forest is the longest of shots in Greensboro this week. The Deacs finished tied for last with a 2-16 record, 6-24 overall. The Deacs take on 11-seed Virginia on Wednesday. Wake has won at least one game in each of the last four tourneys and advanced to the quarterfinals in three of the last four. The Deacs will need to be on their game to keep those streaks going. UVA won the only matchup between the two this season.

Rivals look for separation:

Duke and North Carolina finished with identical 11-7 conference marks and are one loss apart in overall record—Duke is 19-10, Carolina 19-11. The two split their regular season series with each team winning a close game at home. The 8-seed Tar Heels open with 9-seed Miami, while 7-seeded Duke opens with the winner of Pitt-Georgia Tech.

UNC will be led by Deja Kelly, Alyssa Ustby and Lexi Donarski. Duke will rely on defense. The Blue Devils led the ACC in lowest scoring average allowed and blocked shots. Despite being so close, record-wise, the two teams are in separate halves of the bracket and can’t meet until the championship game.

The new favorite? NC State looks to capitalize

With Kitley’s injury, NC State may be ready to step forward as the favorites to cut down the nets this week. The Pack is ranked one spot ahead of the Hokies in the top 25. State finished a game back in the standings but had a better overall record at 25-5.

State led the ACC in rebounding and are ranked in the top 4 in the ACC in offense (4) and defense (3).

The Pack have a pair of players in the top 8 in rebounding in Madison Hayes and River Baldwin. Saniya Rivers ranks third in the league in steals, and Aziaha James (15.6 ppg) provides a scoring punch.

State seems to be in the ideal position to benefit from Virginia Tech’s misfortune, but the Hokies, the defending ACC Tournament champions, won’t go away without a battle, Kitley or not.

“We can sit here and, if the case is that she’s not going to be able to play, then we can feel sorry for ourselves and we can get our butts beat,” Brooks said “or we can go out there and we can continue to play and fight.”