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Virginia Tech prepares to play NCAA Tournament without star Elizabeth Kitley

BLACKSBURG, Va. (AP) — Virginia Tech spent much of the past week joyous at being selected to host the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament for a second consecutive year.

Unfortunately for the Hokies, they will be doing so without their best player.

Virginia Tech coach Kenny Brooks announced Thursday that Elizabeth Kitley had torn the ACL in her left knee in the Hokies’ regular-season finale March 3 and will miss the tournament. The Hokies (24-7) open play Friday as a No. 4 seed in the Portland 3 regional against 13th-seeded Marshall (26-6).

The Hokies have won 25 consecutive home games, but now, without their 6-foot-6 center, they face a Marshall team that has won 10 consecutive games and is making its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1997.

Marshall’s roster features 12 players who play at least 11.5 minutes per game, and its pressing defense forces 24.5 turnovers per game.

“They’re very committed to the press,” Brooks said. “They’re committed to pressure on a make, but the unorthodox part is they’re committed to it on a miss.

“We’re going to need our kids to be able to communicate on the floor, not only through the pressure, through the press, but also matchups because we’re not going to be able to use our whiteboard and say, ‘Hey, you have number such and such.’ They’re going to have to do it themselves. That’s something we’ve had to prep for all week.”

Virginia Tech has the size advantage, with eight players taller than 6-foot. Marshall, which won the Sun Belt Tournament title, doesn’t have a player taller than 6-1, but the Herd leads the country in 3-point attempts per game (31.7), ranks second in 3-pointers per game (10.8), and is third in scoring (86.4).

Abby Beeman, the Sun Belt player of the year, paces Marshall, averaging 16.8 points per game and is seventh nationally with 205 assists.

“Most teams will play up-tempo, and there is a time and place where they will slow it down and call their sets if the game is not going the way they want it to,” Beeman said. “That’s not really us too much. If the game’s going good, bad, we stay the same. We’re going to play how we play, and that’s getting up and down.”

Fifth-seed Baylor (24-7) will be making its 20th consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance – the fourth-longest active streak in the country. The Bears, who lost to Iowa State in the Big 12 Tournament quarterfinals, had to wait until Wednesday night to find out their opponent as they faced the winner of the play-in game.

Baylor, led by Dre’Una Edwards (12 ppg, 6.4 rpg), will face Vanderbilt, a 72-68 winner over Columbia in that opening round contest.

“I think that was the biggest challenge of seeing the bracket come out,” Baylor coach Nicki Collen said. “You’ve gone 10 days without an opponent to prepare for (since the conference tournament) … But it feels good (to finally know).”

GETTING THE NERVES OUT

Vanderbilt coach Shea Ralph feels that playing in the First Four game allowed her team to work out some of its nerves.

The Commodores (23-9) were making their first tournament appearance in 10 years and won their first NCAA Tournament game in 11 years behind Iyana Moore’s 22 points.

“For our team, I think it (playing a game) is an advantage,” Ralph said. “The quick turnaround from Selection Sunday to just having to lock right in and play was good for us. … This being our first NCAA Tournament game with this team and with this program since I’ve been here, there were some nerves. I’m glad we were able to get out on the court and compete. It felt good. They’re feeling great, and we’re excited to keep playing.”

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AP March Madness bracket: https://apnews.com/hub/ncaa-womens-bracket/ and coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness