Richmond looks to end recent skid in series with No. 14 VCU
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) The first meeting of Atlantic 10 rivals Richmond and VCU happens Saturday, and the Spiders will be heading across town trying to start evening things out a little bit in the series.
The 14th-ranked Rams (17-3, 7-0) have won 11 of the last 13 matchups, including all three last season, the latter knocking Richmond out in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament. VCU is on a roll, too, having won 12 in a row overall, and can match its longest winning streak in Shaka Smart’s six seasons as coach.
The Spiders (11-9, 4-3) have been playing well, too, winning four of their last six, but all of those victories came at home; on the road, narrow losses at A-10 stalwarts George Washington and Dayton stretched their losing streak to 10.
The sold-out Siegel Center isn’t the ideal place to try to turn such a trend around. The Rams have drawn 60 consecutive sellouts of their 7,637-seat arena, and they have won 29 of their last 30.
It’s an atmosphere the Spiders have no choice but to try to make work for them, coach Chris Mooney said.
”You’d rather play in a great environment than an empty gym any day,” he said, ”and the band is great, the student section is very close by, so I think it’s great. It certainly gives them a great amount of energy, but it also brings the game energy. I think it’s exciting and fun to be a part of.”
VCU’s devotion to a frenetic, 94-foot game has been a constant throughout Smart’s tenure as coach, but when it doesn’t create the ”havoc” the Rams are aiming for, it can knock them off their game.
In the Rams’ three losses, No. 7 Villanova, No. 2 Virginia and Old Dominion all handled the pressure pretty well, and all three also beat it early to produce 2-on-1 breaks for easy baskets.
Richmond hopes T.J. Cline can help create a few of those opportunities for the Spiders.
Cline, a sophomore transfer, is Richmond’s third-leader scorer (11.3 ppg), and one of its best passers. The 6-foot-9 forward had a career-best seven assists against Duquesne on Wednesday night.
”The thing I’ve been impressed with in watching them play so far this year is I really think Cline gives them an added dimension in the way he can score and pass the ball,” Smart said this week. ”It looks like they’re playing even bigger.”
The Rams, conversely, like to play small, often with a four-guard alignment built for speed and chaos.
The Spiders have historically done a good job of combatting the press, largely because 5-8 senior guard Kendall Anthony is as quick as anyone in the country, and generally can beat it on his own. Then, Anthony said, the key is slowing down.
”I think just playing our game will cool them down,” he said Thursday. ”Making them guard. Not having live ball turnovers. That’s one of the biggest things. Making them have to guard in the halfcourt. … I think we have to control the pace of the game. We can run our offense and get good shots and make them have to guard.”
Anthony, the Spiders’ top scorer at 16 points per game, also has a good history against the Rams. He scored his career-high 31 points at the Siegel Center last season, and had 20 more when they played at Richmond’s Robins Center.
”We’re really as a team going to have to do a great job on him,” Smart said.
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