Virginia Tech players, from left, Clara Strack (13) Olivia Summiel...

Virginia Tech players, from left, Clara Strack (13) Olivia Summiel (20) and Matilda Ekh (11) celebrate an offensive play in the second half of a first-round college basketball game against Marshall in the NCAA Tournament in Blacksburg, Va., Friday, March 22, 2024. Credit: AP/Matt Gentry

BLACKSBURG, Va. — Virginia Tech played without All-American Elizabeth Kitley, out for the NCAA Tournament with a torn ACL, and still won by 43 points in its first-round game.

Baylor scored just 11 points in the fourth quarter and still won by 17 in its opener.

Both teams expect much stiffer tests when they meet Sunday night in a second-round matchup at Virginia Tech’s Cassell Coliseum.

The fourth-seeded Hokies (25-7) handled Marshall’s unorthodox full-court press with ease Friday, extending their home-court winning streak to a school-record 26 games with a 92-49 victory. They rode the emotion of an enthusiastic home crowd, committing just 15 turnovers, getting 17 points from Clara Strack, who started in place of Kitley, and seeing Matilda Ekh break out of a slump with 21 points.

Without their best player, the Hokies had lost three of four coming into the tournament.

“I feel like we’re not just playing against five players tomorrow,” Baylor coach Nicki Collen said Saturday. “We’re playing against 10,005, because I think the energy in this building will be insane. I think the people here will take it very, very personally to help this team and really be kind of a sixth man because of what Kitley has meant to this program.”

Fifth-seeded Baylor (25-7), though, is used to playing in front of large crowds, and the Bears arguably are playing their best basketball of the season. They enter the game having won seven of their past eight, including an impressive 80-63 victory over Vanderbilt on Friday.

Baylor's Bella Fontleroy shoots against Vanderbilt during the second half...

Baylor's Bella Fontleroy shoots against Vanderbilt during the second half of a first-round college basketball game in the women's NCAA Tournament in Blacksburg, Va., Friday, March 22, 2024. Credit: AP/Robert Simmons

Baylor features a versatile player in 6-foot forward Bella Fontleroy, who had 19 points and 11 rebounds Friday. Fontleroy can play multiple positions, and Virginia Tech lacks someone with the size and length to guard her.

Baylor also exploits teams on the boards. The Bears outrebounded Vanderbilt by five and moved to 21-1 when outrebounding their opponents.

But most importantly, the Bears are experienced, with six seniors or graduate students on their roster.

“I think this is a team that you saw start going out 13-0 (to begin the season),” Baylor’s Sarah Andrews said. “I see the firepower in our eyes. We’re 1-0 right now. We know the next game is not guaranteed, so we can't take any plays off. That one play you take off could be the play that cost you the game.”

Virginia Tech's Matilda Ekh (11) and Clara Strack (13) block...

Virginia Tech's Matilda Ekh (11) and Clara Strack (13) block a shot by Marshall's Ashley Tudor (22) in the second half of a first-round college basketball game in the NCAA Tournament in Blacksburg, Va., Friday, March 22, 2024. Credit: AP/Matt Gentry

The game may well come down to Baylor’s ability to make shots against Virginia Tech’s defense. In its only loss in this recent stretch, the Bears shot 30% against Iowa State in the Big 12 Tournament quarterfinals and missed 18 of their final 19 shots.

Virginia Tech plays excellent team defense, holding opponents to under 38% from the floor for the season. Marshall shot just 24% against the Hokies.

If the Hokies can defend like normal, get big games from All-American point guard Georgia Amoore, Ekh, and Strack, and ride the emotion from that home crowd, they like their chances of advancing.

“Last year at this time, it was a little eye-opening because it was the first sellout that we ever played in front of in the tournament,” Virginia Tech coach Kenny Brooks said. “But then since then, I think we had five or six sellouts this year, so our kids are really used to this environment. They thrive off of it. It’s definitely something that gives us an advantage. We like to say it’s worth about 8-10 points just being in this environment.

“I’ve said it a million times, Hokie Nation and this crowd … they make a good team great.”

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