Friday, January 3, 2014
VCU: Bring on the A-10!
This VCU stuff is crazy, isn't it?
I mean, 12 straight victories, from a team that only won 11 all of last season? A 58-point rout in the Atlantic 10 opener? Nine straight 20-point games from Robyn Parks?
Evidently, "Fury" isn't just a catchy nickname. When it comes to these Rams, it's the damn truth.
At least so far.
Now comes the hard part - the meat of their Atlantic 10 schedule.
Yes, the Rams (13-1, 1-0 A-10) have proven they've got the hang of their high-octane style and can use it to pummel teams into submission. But while few could have predicted VCU would have this much success, head coach Marlene Stollings acknowledged that, with eight new players to fold into the system, the non-conference schedule was shaped to give the youthful Rams ample opportunities for success.
"It was designed in such a way so the newcomers could get used to this level without beating them down," she said.
Couldn't have worked out better. Now it's time to start stepping up in class, beginning with Saturday's game at Duquesne (9-4, 1-0). Stollings said the Dukes, a perennial NCAA Tournament at-large bubble team who start three seniors (and sophomore point guard April Robinson from Springfield), are probably the toughest team VCU has faced so far.
Stollings identified three keys for continued success as the schedule toughens:
- Making reads. Stollings said the better conference teams are good enough to take away first and second options. The Rams must react smartly and decisively when this happens;
- Defensive stands. "We need to be able to string together consecutive stops," Stollings said.
- Poise, please. The Rams can't count on being up 20 or 30 every night (we don't think) and will likely encounter their share of adverse moments during the run of play. Maintaining poise through the ebbs and flows of tight games will be crucial, the coach said.
Regardless of what happens going forward, though, it's safe to say that the transformation of VCU women's basketball is already a huge success. We went back and looked at the kind of team Stollings promised at her introductory press conference back in 2012 - uptempo, lots of points, fun to watch.
Lots of coaches say this kind of stuff when they take over; it's red meat for the new fan base. But at VCU, it was more than just talk. Because a year and half later, that's exactly the kind of team that's in place.
- Stollings said in addition to improved conditioning, Parks is excelling because of a laser-like focus and the sense of urgency that comes with being a senior. "She really has zeroed in," Stollings said. Parks is averaging 23.1 points - tops in the A-10 and 11th in Division I - and 9.7 rebounds.
- Last season, Duquesne spanked the Rams 73-51 in Richmond during the regular season, then pulled out a 64-58 triumph in the first round of the A-10 Tournament.
- Sophomore shooting guard Jessica Pellechio, who started and made the A-10 All-Rookie team last season, is now an extremely dangerous option off the Rams bench. Just ask UMass - Pellechio had 18 points - 6 3-pointers - in 18 minutes in Thursday's 112-54 victory. The Rams are also getting quality minutes from redshirt sophomore forward Melanie Royster, who had 6 points and 6 boards in Monday's victory over Old Dominion.
- Freshman point guard Keira Robinson had "just" five assists Thursday, snapping a string of five straight games in which she'd dished out at least eight. But seeing as the team racked up a season-high 25 assists, we suspect she's OK with it. For the season Robinson is averaging 6.5 dimes per contest, 15th in Division I.
- VCU's 112 points, the 62-point first half and the 14 3-pointers against poor UMass were all program records.