RAMS COUNTER-PUNCH IN BUDDING A-10 RIVALRY

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Briante Weber provided 13 points and four steals in VCU's win Saturday.

Briante Weber provided 13 points and four steals in VCU’s win Saturday.

RICHMOND, Va. – They call him the Freight Train, and that’s what Treveon Graham resembled as his 6-foot-6, 220-pound frame rumbled down the sideline midway through the second half Saturday night.

Graham was chasing down a rebound, and despite his heft, the junior guard slipped past two Saint Louis players, grabbed the ball at midcourt and drew a hip-check foul. His momentum carried him into the path of 5-foot-9 VCU Coach Shaka Smart, who corralled him with an enthusiastic bear hug. The normally stoic Graham broke character and flashed a healthy smile.

It turns out, Smart was about the only person who could catch a Ram Saturday night. Saint Louis, ranked 10th in the country, certainly could not, as VCU staged a wire-to-wire 67-56 victory behind an opportunistic defense and a 49th straight sellout crowd at the Verizon Wireless Arena that lurched towards frenzy at every opportunity.

The victory was meaningful on a number of levels, for history – it was the highest-ranked team VCU had ever defeated at home – for the Rams’ NCAA Tournament resume, for its Atlantic 10 seeding, but it may have mattered most for pride. Since the Rams joined the A-10 last season, the Billikens were the only remaining member of the league VCU hadn’t cracked. Saint Louis defeated the Rams twice last season, once in St. Louis and once for the A-10 crown in Brooklyn, and then again at the Billikens’ Chaifetz arena on Feb. 15.

“It was definitely important. We had a mindset of payback from last year when they beat us in the championship game. Of course that’s always on our mind,” admitted junior guard Briante Weber, who provided 13 points and four of VCU’s 12 steals. “They had yet to come to VCU, and we wanted to give them the impression of what VCU’s like when you come in here.”

VCU upset 10th-ranked Saint Louis Saturday night before the 49th-straight sellout at the Verizon Wireless Arena at the Siegel Center,

VCU upset 10th-ranked Saint Louis Saturday night before the 49th-straight sellout at the Verizon Wireless Arena at the Siegel Center,

Amid a pulsating sea of gold – the product of an advertised “Gold Out” – VCU (22-7, 10-4 A-10) whipped itself into an aggressive, defiant state.

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VIDEO: VCU UPENDS NO. 10 SAINT LOUIS

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HIGHLIGHTS

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SHAKA SMART

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JIM CREWS

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VCU PLAYERS

A PREVIEW AND A HAPPY VALENTINE’S

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First and foremost, the task at hand. Saint Louis looms Saturday at 2 p.m. It’s a huge game on a huge network (regular ESPN), with huge announcers (Bob Knight – who doesn’t really know who VCU is, but whatever), with huge implications. (INSERTING CLICHE…) This is what college basketball is all about. I’m on the road with women’s hoops on a D.C. to Rhode Island jaunt interrupted by snowstorm Skippy, or whatever they’re calling this one. Anyway, Seth Greenberg took a minute to preview Saturday’s tilt, and District Baller took a few minutes to YouTube it, so you should take a few minutes and watch.

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It’s also Valentine’s Day, and I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the love-fest that is VCU. That was probably never more apparent Wednesday, when you guys mushed and snowshoed your way to pack The Stu tighter than the ski lodge right after the final run of the day.

So let’s celebrate Valentine’s Day, VCU style. The good thing is we have great fans here who love photography and love Photoshop. So, here are some VCU-themed Valentine’s brought to you by Chris “Pavarotti” Crowley, who might as well work for this blog with how much content he generates, and a few great photos by Will Weaver.

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RAMS STAND TALL ON A-10 SUCCESS, NCAA FUTURE

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Shaka Smart said Sunday he's proud of VCU's performance in the A-10 this season.

Shaka Smart said Sunday he’s proud of VCU’s performance in the A-10 this season.

BROOKLYN, N.Y. – As Shaka Smart spoke, his voice betrayed him. After three emotional Atlantic 10 Tournament games, it cracked and wheezed. Much like his team, Smart left everything, including his voice, on the Barclays Center floor.

The Rams stellar inaugural A-10 season came to a close Sunday in an emotional 62-56 loss to Saint Louis in the league’s championship game. VCU, which had been overrun by a poised Billikens team in St. Louis a couple of weeks ago, battled until the final horn. The Rams refused to let Saint Louis walk to a title with a repeat performance.

But an A-10 title was not in the cards for the Rams this year. That honor goes to a tough Saint Louis team that overcame the death of its coach, Rick Majerus, earlier this year and banded together. The Billikens came into the game ranked 16th nationally, and they’re at least that good, if not better. The Rams can keep the chins high.

“We came at them, they took a punch from us. They responded, and that’s why they’re the champions,” said Smart afterwards.

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RELAX, SLU HAPPENS

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512451ab0cf70.imageTuesday’s 76-62 loss to Saint Louis is what it is. The Rams took one on the chin. You’ll have that, it’s a long season. Saint Louis is playing terrific right now. My cap doth tip to thee. What the Billikens just did to the Rams, they essentially did the same thing to No. 15 Butler (75-58) and NCAA-hopeful Charlotte (75-58) in the last two weeks.

While the result was jarring, sometimes these things are inevitable over the course of a 30-plus game regular season. The last time the Rams took a punch like this, they ended up in the Final Four. The coaching staff will dissect the film and put the players to work the next three days. Xavier awaits on Saturday.

For the sake your sanity and to give an idea about how wild a ride a college basketball season can be, have a look at this. Here are a number of teams from this week’s top 25 and some of their lob-sided losses:

#2 Miami
11/13 at Florida Gulf Coast, L, 63-51
12/23 at #4 Arizona, L, 69-50

#5 Florida
2/5 at Arkansas, L, 80-69

#6 Duke
1/23 at Miami, L, 90-63

#9 Kansas
2/6 at TCU, L, 62-55

#11 Georgetown
1/8 vs. Pitt, L, 73-45

#12 Arizona
2/14 at Colorado, L, 71-58

#14 Kansas State
12/15 vs. #14 Gonzaga, L 68-52
2/11 at #14 Kansas, L, 83-62

#15 Butler
11/13 at Xavier, L, 62-47
11/21 vs. Illinois, L, 78-61
1/31 at Saint Louis, L, 75-58

I watched that Duke-Miami game. It was a no contest. What did Duke do? It went back to work and won six straight before Saturday’s close loss at Maryland. Miami lost to Florida Gulf Coast by 12 this season. Read that twice. The Hurricanes are now the No. 2 team in the country. Florida recently went to unranked Arkansas and got pounded. Georgetown lost a game to Pitt by 28! These are all top 15 teams we’re talking about.

One regular season loss doesn’t change much in the grand scheme of things. How you respond to it can. Shaka Smart and Co. will go back to the lab, and the Rams will get better. Of this I am abundantly confident. I don’t know about you, but I woke up feeling fine this morning. My son may have learned some new words last night, but today, I’m good. You should be too.

On to more important matters. It’s pronounced, “Zay-vier”, not “Ecks-zavier.”

RAMS LOOSE, SHARP IN TUNE-UP FOR STRETCH RUN

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Juvonte Reddic finished with 24 points and 10 rebounds Saturday.

Juvonte Reddic finished with 24 points and 10 rebounds Saturday.

RICHMOND, Va. – If Saturday night’s 84-57 win over George Washington is any indication, VCU is ready for its stretch run. It was the Rams’ final game before a pressure-packed five-bout gauntlet to close out the regular season, and VCU looked a lot like the team that was blowing opponents off the Siegel Center floor earlier this year.

It was a perfect storm for VCU (21-5, 9-2 A-10), really. It was Havoc meets the Peach Fuzz Boys. The Rams’ relentless defensive pressure, combined with George Washington’s inexperience, gestated into 25 Colonials’ turnovers. VCU was more than happy to trade those miscues in for 27 points, an advantage that proved insurmountable.

George Washington, in the second year of Mike Lonergan’s rebuilding project, started four freshmen Saturday night. Those four rookies combined for 17 turnovers, including eight from Joe McDonald. After that, there were few stats that mattered. The pace and tone of the game were squarely in VCU’s favor, and from there, it was a day at the races.

Junior Juvonte Reddic found open space all evening and made his first seven field goal attempts, five of them highlight-quality dunks. On the Rams’ first offensive possession of the game, Reddic used a back screen to get free and caught a high-arching lob from Darius Theus with his right hand and threw it down for a thunderous slam. It was a play that set the tone for night.

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