Friday, March 26, 2010

VCU - the last team standing

A little over a week ago, the CAA was crowing about having seven teams involved in postseason play. Then the games started. Most of the league's teams aren't crowing any more:

James Madison - The NCAA-bound Dukes were blessed with a good first-round draw, generous fan support and a familiar setting in which to play. But when they couldn't match Temple's physicality or solve the Owls' defense, none of that mattered.

Drexel - When is an 18-point lead with less than seven minutes to play not enough? When you're the snakebitten Dragons, who still found a way to lose East Carolina in overtime. It was Drexel's sixth straight loss - all but one by two points or less or in overtime.

Delaware - With Elena Delle Donne sick, the rest of the Blue Hens felt her pain against Richmond.

Old Dominion - They got away with more turnovers than Sara Lee at home against American, but their stumblin' and bumblin' caught up to them at Syracuse.

Hofstra - The Pride's 76-68 triumph at Penn State was one of the most impressive by any CAA team all season. But they couldn't follow it up three days later and lost to VCU for the second time in nine days.

Towson - WBI first round: Fairfield 69, Towson 55. The Tigers started four seniors, against a team they probably knew nothing about in a tournament they'd never heard of. Not saying the Tigers didn't give 100-percent effort. But honestly, how geeked up do you think they were for this trip to Connecticut?

So that leaves VCU (22-12), which will visit Syracuse (24-10) tonight at 7 p.m. in the WNIT third round. Unlike with Towson, motivation is no longer in question with these Rams. After all, had they mailed it in during their first round, they would have gotten blown out at St. Joseph's. Instead, they pulled away late. And Hofstra beat VCU during the regular season. And the Pride played well enough to do it again Sunday had the Rams not been willing to dig in.

Besides, at this point the Rams can begin to see the finish line. A victory tonight would put them in the Pretty Good Eight - sorry, but the "Elite" teams are in the NCAAs - and send them to Michigan for a Sunday, 2 p.m. contest. And should they survive that, the Rams would be in the Final Four and on their way to either Providence (ugh) or Miami (hmmm...).

But first things first. Syracuse may not be anything special against Big East foes (9-10) but the Orange is 15-0 against non-conference teams. And the one time we paid attention to them this year, they were embarrassing Old Dominion 65-32 in Cancun. Surely the Rams will put up a better fight than the Lady Monarchs did back in November. But frankly, it's going to take something close to the Rams' best fight for them to keep marching on in this WNIT.

For VCU, this almost certainly means prime-time efforts from D'Andra Moss, Kita Waller and Courtney Hurt. The Rams had two of their Big Three clicking in each of their two previous WNIT wins - Hurt (29 points) and Moss (27) went off against St. Joe's, and Hurt (27) and Waller (27) led the way against Hofstra. But two out of three may not be enough this time.

Syracuse doesn't appear to be taking the Rams for granted, either. At least their coach isn't.

"They are a very tough and well-coached team," Orange head coach Quentin Hillsman said. "They are a team that can play with the middle-of-the-pack type BIG EAST teams which we are right now. It’s going to be a tough game and we’re just happy to be able to be on the floor and compete. They have a great coach so it’s going to be one of those games where I have to hold up my end of the bargain and our kids have to hold up their end.”

Hillsman and VCU's Beth Cunningham no doubt ran into each other often during recruiting last year, as both signed a player from North Point High in Waldorf, Md. for the 2010-11 season. Syracuse will welcome Tiara Butler, a 5-10 guard, while the Rams will add Butler's prep teammate Robyn Parks, a 6-0 wing.

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