Thursday, December 1, 2011

Richmond survives VCU in 78-77 thriller

Richmond 78, VCU 77: If the Spiders and Rams played all their games like this, Richmond coach Michael Shafer's dark hair would be milk white by season's end - if he hadn't pulled it all out - and Rams coach Beth Cunningham would wind up with more wrinkles than a California raisin. But basketball fans would be thrilled as this was terrific stuff from both sides. The Rams led by eight with less than five minutes to play, but an Abby Oliver jumper ignited a 9-0 run capped by a Kerri Soppe 3-pointer with 2:21 left that put the Spiders in front 74-73. A pair of Andrea Barbour free throws nudged the Rams back in front, but Oliver initiated the game's 17th and final lead change with four consecutive points. The drama was far from over, though. A Courtney Hurt layup with 44 seconds to go got the Rams to within a point, and a Richmond turnover gave VCU one final chance. But Barbour's jumper, Hurt's follow and Barbour's follow of the follow all failed to connect and the Spiders survived for their fourth straight win the series.

So many standout performers. For Richmond (6-1), Oliver was brilliant in the first half (15 of her 21 points), and after being shut down for most of the second, emerged as the closer down the stretch. Sophomore Gen Okoro delivered the finest effort of her young career with a 21-point, 13-rebound double-double. Rachael Bilney shook off a minor (we hope) knee ailment to add 10 points. Soppe, a freshman point guard, came off the bench to nail hit the big 3-pointer and displayed poise in the hectic final minutes. And while this was hardly a surprise, a Richmond team that leads Division I in free throw shooting was a splendid 22 of 25 (88 percent) from the line.

Meanwhile, the Rams (3-3), who had been stymied by Richmond's defense in the prior three meetings, nearly matched the Spiders basket for basket this time. Hurt had 25 points and 10 boards. Barbour chimed in with 23 points, 18 in the second half, 7 rebounds and 6 assists. Freshman Aprill McRae continued her emergence with a season-high 13 points and 7 boards. Robyn Parks added 12 points. That's four double-digit scorers, an ominous thought for VCU''s future opponents.

Remarkably, it wasn't quite enough Thursday night. The Rams are probably kicking themselves for letting that late eight-point lead slip away, and Cunningham bemoaned her team's failure to do "the little things" that might have sealed this deal. Still, if one of those last-second shots go down - and we're not quite sure how Hurt's attempt didn't fall - it's the Spiders fretting about a tough loss.

Sadly, only 478 fans turned out at the Siegel Center to see it all. Their loss. Because on this night, Richmond and VCU put on one heck of a show.

1 comment:

  1. Live far away, watched on-line, wish I were there in person. Awesome game. Great play on both ends.