RICHMOND, Va. – So, this is High Octane.
After three games of starts, stops, spurts and sputters, VCU’s new look, dubbed “High Octane” by first-year Head Coach Marlene Stollings, clicked Tuesday night in a 79-55 rout of UMKC.
“I’m very proud of our young ladies,” Stollings said. “It’s not easy to go on the road to start the season, and this was well earned and well deserved to come back home and get an opportunity to show our fans for the first time with the new system and the new staff basically what we want to be about, which is getting up and down the floor and shooting three ball, which are two things we did very well tonight.”
You could argue Stollings was even being a bit modest. At the forefront of VCU’s shift into high gear was something she promised would be a High Octane staple, 3-point shooting. The Rams punished the Kangaroos’ zone to the tune of a school-record 13 three-pointers, including nine from freshman guard Jessica Pellechio, who finished with 30 points. Pellechio hit 9-of-18 from beyond the arc and was one 3-pointer short of tying the VCU record of 10, set by Meagan Evans in 2001.
“I struggled my first few shots,” Pellechio said. “Sometimes you’ve got to keep shooting as a shooter, but good shots, you never want to be off balance or [shooting] bad shots. We got it in and back out and set up my rhythm, and after a while you keep shooting and it falls.”
Junior forward Robyn Parks provided balance to VCU’s long-range shooting, scoring 24 points with 10 rebounds.
“We challenged Robyn Parks early in the year to average a double-double and she’s sitting right there with it tonight,” Stollings said.
For a night, everything looked good.
Following road losses to Elon, Manhattan and Old Dominion to start the season, VCU entered the game shooting .335 from the field and .288 from three. On Tuesday, the Rams hit .443 (27-of-61) overall from the field, including .538 (14-of-26) in the second half alone. VCU was 13-of-31 from 3-point range on the night.
VCU turned the ball over 25 times Saturday in a 74-51 loss to Old Dominion, but coughed it up a season-low 12 against UMKC. In addition, the Rams handed out a season-best 17 assists.
When the Rams are right, and Tuesday, it was often, they are eminently more fun to watch than any VCU team in a while. VCU pushed the ball at every opportunity and swung the it around to open shooters like Pellechio, who were more than happy fire away at will. It was everything Stollings promised in the months leading up to the season, but had been missing in the first three games.
With just 20 percent of its scoring returning from last season, it could take a while before these types of performances are standard fare. The starting lineup remains in flux and rotations are a work in progress. Two freshmen (Pellechio and Kaneisha Atwater) started Tuesday and two other starters (Zakia Williams and Shekinah Henry) entered the season with fewer than 200 career minutes played.
But the victory showed signs of real growth and treated fans to what High Octane can be and why Stollings believes in it.
Pellechio is the first VCU freshman to top 30 points in a game since Quanitra Hollingsworth scored 32 against Georgia State on Jan. 13, 2006 at the Siegel Center… Pellechio has 18 three-pointers this season in four games. Robyn Hobson’s 25 three-pointers last year led the team… Parks has recorded double-doubles in back-to-back games. She is averaging 19.3 points in four games this season after averaging 6.6 points last season.