BASKETBALL PRACTICE BEGINS!

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The men are still a week away, but VCU Women’s Basketball team practice started yesterday. Should be interesting. Expectations will be high for the Rams, who have made four straight postseason appearances (which also coincided with me moving from my original role as women’s basketball SID. Hmmm). VCU has two All-CAA players returning, All-America Honorable Mention Courtney Hurt and Andrea Barbour. VCU has never won a CAA title. Could this be the year?

HUSTLE AND FLOW

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RICHMOND, Va. – If Beth Cunningham has cracked the code on Old Dominion, she’s not telling. But after VCU’s thorough beating of the Lady Monarchs, 74-53, Thursday night at the Verizon Wireless Arena, it was clear that this once lobsided series had entered a new phase.

The Rams (15-9, 10-4 CAA) capitalized on 15 ODU turnovers to build a 10-point halftime lead and were never seriously threatened the rest of the way. The victory gives VCU it’s first regular season sweep of the Lady Monarchs (17-8, 11-3 CAA) since the 1972-73 season. The Rams are just the second team in CAA history to sweep ODU in the regular season, matching James Madison’s 2008-09 squad.

After decades of ODU dominance in the series, VCU has managed to turn the tide. The Rams have won four of five from the Lady Monarchs. Additionally, VCU’s last two losses to ODU have come by a total of three points. It’s VCU’s largest margin of victory in the series since the 1972-73 season.

ODU’s shadow over the CAA is huge. The Lady Monarchs once won 17 straight league titles. So, if the Rams have discovered the formula for beating Old Dominion, they could probably make a mint if they could bottle and sell it.

It’s a win that also earned the Black and Gold some breathing room on Delaware for one of the Colonial Athletic Association’s top four seeds for the conference tournament. VCU’s win, coupled withe Blue Hens’ loss to George Mason on Thursday, gives the Rams a two-game lead on Delaware with four league games to play. The Rams and Blue Hens meet Feb. 24 in Newark, Del.

Under the direction of Wendy Larry, Old Dominion has traditionally fielded deep, athletic squads. But on Thursday, VCU made the Lady Monarchs look stunningly ordinary.

Playing in front of a season-high “Pink Out” crowd of more than 1,300, the Rams looked energized.VCU won nearly every “hustle stat”, pounding ODU on the glass, 49-34, while forcing 21 turnovers. VCU had 21 offensive rebounds and outscored the Lady Monarchs, 21-8 on second-chance points.

Junior star Courtney Hurt lived up to her billing, delivering 27 points and 19 rebounds for her 20th double-double of the season. The Rams also recieved outstanding complimentary performances from juniors Andrea Barbour (17 points, 5 rebounds) and Jennifer Lane (9 points, 7 assists, 5 rebounds).

OTHER NOTES

  • You know what the scary thing is about the CAA this year? The scary thing is that Courtney Hurt, who is averaging 23.2 points and 13.1 rebounds per game this season, might be considered by some as the third-best player in this league behind Dawn Evans and Elena Delle Donne.
  • VCU is really, really good when it gets solid contributions from players like Jennifer Lane, Chelsea Snyder, Robyn Parks and Jacqueline Brewer, as it did last night. Hurt is going to put up numbers, but if the Rams can rebound, defend and hit a couple of key buckets around her, they can be very, very good.
  • Eric Maynor, VCU grad and current member of the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder, was at the game Thursday. Maynor spent much of the game signing autographs and taking photos with fans. He left with about five minutes in the game and the Rams ahead by a comfortable margin.
  • If you need any further proof that every game counts, VCU’s inexplicable loss to Towson earlier this year continues to haunt them. The Rams are currently fourth in the CAA at 10-4, behind 11-3 UNC Wilmington and 11-3 ODU, as well as 13-1 James Madison. If the Rams had beaten Towson, they’d be second, since VCU owns tiebreakers with both the Lady Monarchs and the Seahawks. Towson slipped to 2-12 in CAA action on Thursday.

WE’RE STILL HERE; RAMS THWART ODU, JOIN LIST OF CAA CONTENDERS

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NORFOLK, Va. – If nothing else, the VCU Women’s Basketball team sounded like a championship contender after Thursday night’s heart-pounding, 63-60, victory at Old Dominion. Like a team in mid-season form, the clichés were out in full force.

“…any time you can go on the road and win in the CAA is big.”
“We’ve got to take it one game at a time…”
“…it’s just another game…”

Etcetera, etcetera. Rinse and repeat.

Yup, the Rams said all the right things. They tried to be overtly humble and show a sense of perspective. They tried to act like it was just another game, but it’s really not that simple.

The magnitude of Thursday’s victory over the Lady Monarchs (11-6, 5-1 CAA), previously unbeaten in the CAA, is much greater than that. Considering that VCU (10-6, 5-1 CAA) once went 37 seasons between victories in Norfolk until a 75-56 triumph last season, it’s impossible to call any victory in the Ted Constant Center just another win. Not if you want anybody to believe you, anyway. READ MORE…

TUESDAY: STILL HERE

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So, first I missed out on the lotto for $350 million or whatever it was and now yesterday’s gig as an extra in a Virginia Lottery commercial failed to yield any future acting work. So much for Hollywood. I suppose that means you’ll see me in the office the rest of the week.

There was plenty of action this weekend, however. Both the VCU men and women beat Northeastern, a maneuver also known as the Huskie Sweep. I’ve already talked a bunch about the men’s game on Saturday, so perhaps some thoughts on the women’s contest?

HUSKIES HUMBLED
Frankly, this team women’s team is better than most of us expected. Courtney Hurt is better than we thought. The bench is better than we thought. Newcomers Sonia Johnson and Andrea Barbour are better than we thought. Everything.

The Rams topped Northeastern on Sunday, 79-58. Hurt dumped 19 points and 13 rebounds for her 14th double-double in 15 games.. VCU also got 17 points, six assists and three steals from Barbour (feature on her forthcoming) and 12 points from Johnson. Junior point guard Jennifer Lane also dished out seven assists.

So, we know the Rams are pretty good. The only problem is that we don’t know how good. But, in this world of instant gratification, we wait for nothing. The Rams (9-6, 4-1 CAA) meet both Old Dominion (Thursday) and James Madison (Sunday) on the road this week. By Monday, we’ll know much more about this squad than we did yesterday.

OTHER RANDOM THOUGHTS

  • As good as Barbour has been, and she has been good, I think her best is yet to come. Barbour is a special type of athlete. She can literally do everything. Not only can she score, she can rebound (6.5 rpg), defend (3.0 spg) and handle the ball (2.8 apg). She’s too athletic and big for most of the guards in the CAA to match up with and she’s too quick for most post players.
  • Speaking of Barbour. She made her first start the other day. Senior Jessica Taylor had started the Rams’ first 14 contests, but was said to have told Coach Beth Cunningham that she was perfectly comfortable coming off the bench and would be more than happy to give way to Barbour in the starting lineup. Taylor knocked down 2-of-3 3-pointers yesterday and finished eight points.
  • The Rams had 19 assists yesterday and turned the ball over just 10 times.
  • Robyn Parks grabbed seven rebounds and scored five points in just 12 minutes off the bench Sunday.
  • Hurt’s double-double (19 points, 13 rebounds) was her 14th of the season. She needs five more to establish a new VCU single-season record.

TUESDAY LINKS!

SAY HELLO TO COURTNEY HURT

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Courtney Hurt averaged 26 points a game last week in a couple of VCU wins. That was good enough to earn her CAA Co-Player of the Week honors for the third time this year. The Rams ONLY needed 17 points and seven boards from Hurt on Sunday in a 64-46 win over George Mason to improve to 3-0 in CAA play. Mike Voyack sat down with “C-Hurt” today to get her thoughts on this season.

C. HURT AND THE GLASS CRASHERS

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Courtney Hurt’s junior season is turning into in impressive exhibition. Hurt blistered UNC Wilmington with 35 points, 13 rebounds and four steals in a 70-58 win over the Seahawks Thursday night at the Siegel Center. Hurt was nothing short of spectacular, scoring 25 of the Rams’ 39 points in the second half on the way to tying VCU’s single-game scoring record. She is now one of six Rams (seriously) who hold that distinction. It’s Hurt’s third 30-point performance this season.

Wilmington entered the game as winners of four of its last five games, but couldn’t keep Hurt and Company off the glass. Hurt, the nation’s leading rebounder, grabbed eight of the Rams 17 offensive boards to spark VCU’s second-half comeback. Those 17 offensive boards yielded 21 second-chance points. Hurt’s double-double was her 12th straight, which extends her own school record.

“It’s one of her biggest strengths. If she misses her own shot and follows it up or just being active on the glass,” said VCU Head Coach Beth Cunningham. “It’s why she has all the double-doubles she has. She certainly did a good job for us on the defensive boards, but she’s always getting a lot of offensive rebounds and just has a nose for the ball. I think those types of plays really get your team going.”

Junior Andrea Barbour added 12 points and eight boards for the Rams, who have won three straight to improve to 7-5 overall and 2-0 in CAA action.

UNCW actually led by six, 52-46, with 8:35 to play, but VCU closed the game on a 24-6 run. At one point, Hurt scored 10 straight points, including a go-ahead three-point play with 4:26 left.

TIDBITS
Hurt, Barbour and Jennifer Lane each had four steals for VCU, which turned over UNCW 26 times… Sophomore Daphne Adebayo enjoyed her best game as a Ram, contributing eight points and two rebounds. Adebayo made all four of her field goal attempts in a career-best 30 minutes… UNC Wilmington’s Martha White scored 10 points in her first 12 minutes Thursday, but had just one second half point… VCU outscored UNCW in the paint, 38-20 and got 29 points off turnovers… The Rams have won nine of their last 12 over the Seahawks, including four straight… UNC Wilmington scored the first 10 points of the game and led by as much as 12 points (23-11) in the first half.

VCU SINGLE-GAME SCORING RECORD (35 POINTS)
Becky Crow (2/8/80 vs. New Orleans)
Brenda Smith (12/9/86 vs. Longwood)
Kelly Hoover (3/1/87 vs. Virginia Tech)
Anna Pavlikhina (1/18/92 vs. South Florida)
Kita Waller (1/28/10 vs. UNC Wilmington)
Courtney Hurt (1/6/11 vs. UNC Wilmington)

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