RICHMOND, Va. – It must be rough to be Shaka Smart sometimes. It’s his job look at the film from Thursday’s 50-point win and find out what the Rams did wrong. Good luck with that, Coach. Maybe somebody left their shirt untucked.
For most observers of the Rams’ 94-44 systematic obliteration of Virginia Union, VCU was nearly flawless. At one point, the Rams led by 62. Sixty-two points! Even as Smart tried to position himself for a preemptive strike against overconfidence, he conceded a little of the obvious: The Rams dominated the Panthers in every facet of the game.
“I would give it a pretty good,” Smart offered. “It’s about as well as you’re going to do this time of year. We’ve got some things to work on. We’ll watch the tape and see what we need to improve on and get better at.”
It appears VCU was flawless in coachspeak Thursday as well. Of course he can’t give away too much now. He can’t give into the desire to celebrate a win that really isn’t a win at all. On Thursday morning, VCU’s record was 0-0. On Friday morning, it’s still 0-0. Smart’s paid to think big picture, and big picture is March.
Smart’s real task will be to separate VCU’s good from the talent gap between the two teams. Virginia Union was overwhelmed by the Rams’ press to the tune of 22 turnovers. Thirty-three of the Rams’ points came off Union giveaways. Was that because VCU was that good? Was Virginia Union that bad? A little bit of both? That’s going to be Smart’s chore. From my perspective, it was more of VCU’s defensive bloodlust than it was Union’s inadequacy.
But Smart’s cautious shepherding of his team’s emotions seems to be working.
“I think we played well at times,” Senior Troy Daniels attempted to convince us. “We’ve still got stuff to fix. If we won by 100 it wouldn’t have mattered. This weekend we’re going to get at it.”
Even if the play wasn’t perfect, and it was pretty close, the modesty very nearly was.
‘A DIFFERENT TYPE OF KID’
At the heart of VCU’s controlled chaos, the epicenter of havoc, was sophomore Briante Weber. In 18 minutes, he generated eight steals and 10 points. Had it been a regular season contest, Weber would’ve broken a 24-year-old school record for steals in a game.
It’s a good way to describe what Weber does: generated. Everything produced by action, by motion. He’s a ball of kinetic energy in a headband.
Smart has made no secret of his affection for Weber’s ability to blow up an offense, and started the 6-foot-2 guard Thursday. Weber rewarded Smart with a tantalizing performance that literally begs, pleads, for an encore.
“I mean, Bri,” senior Darius Theus, said, pausing as a smile crept out. “When he just walks into the building you can feel his energy. He’s just a different type of kid. We’re just blessed to have him on our team. We just feed off his energy.”
Weber’s brilliance is played on the razor’s edge. He’s rarely more than an inch away from outstanding or out of control. Smart knows it better than anybody. He also knows that getting more of Thursday’s Weber, as opposed to an erratic one, is critical to VCU’s success.
“It’s fine line for him definitely between wreaking havoc and playing with discipline, which sometimes has gotten him in trouble because he might be out of position or allow a man to drive,” Smart said. “But the guy is really a problem for other teams when he’s on it.”
Sophomore forward Jarred Guest, who didn’t sniff VCU’s regular rotation last season, started for the Rams Thursday and finished with 10 points on 4-of-7 shooting and five rebounds in 14 minutes. For the 14:40 he was on the floor, the Rams outscored Virginia Union by 38 points.
“He earned the chance to be a starter,” Smart said. “He’s been one of our most energetic players in practice. We keep track of a lot of stats in practice that measure energy and he’s been consistently one or two.”
Guest appeared 20 games last season and averaged 0.9 points and 0.6 rebounds. Although he did have a couple of notable performances, a six-point, six-rebound half at Hofstra comes to mind, he was essentially an unknown quantity outside the walls of Franklin Street Gym.
However, the lanky, 6-9 Guest played much like a veteran Thursday. He fluidly knocked down two 16-foot jumpers early in the second half and picked up two steals and a blocked shot on the defensive end. Guest said he found out he’d be starting on Wednesday and was excited for the opportunity.
“It felt good,” the Columbia, S.C. native said. “I put in a lot of work in the offseason and was ready to play. I got pumped up.”
ODDS AND ENDS
Weber’s eight steals would have broken the school record of seven, first set by Edmund Sherod in 1978 and since tied by LaMar Taylor, Patrick Lee, Terrence Gibson and Joey Rodriguez… Freshmen Melvin Johnson and Justin Tuoyo made their VCU debuts Thursday. Johnson was just 1-of-4 from 3-point range, but did finish with nine points and eight rebounds in 19 minutes. Tuoyo was 0-of-3 from the field, but had six rebounds and three blocked shots. “Justin can do some things that are very unique for his position,” Smart said… VCU’s 50-point win is the largest margin of victory in its series with Virginia Union. The Rams are 18-4 all-time against the Panthers, including 10-2 in exhibitions… Sophomore Teddy Okereafor looked assertive and finished with five points, five rebounds and three assists.