If you’ve followed VCU Rams women’s basketball the past 2 years you are familiar with Head Coach Beth O’Boyle’s defensive focus. If you are familiar with her predecessor Head Coach Marlene Stollings you will remember a more offensive style. What happens when two coaches meet on a court they’ve both called home? How do recruits that came in under one coach and are now senior leaders perform when their current style is different from the original? You see two very talented teams with different skill sets in a true battle. This A-10 meets Big Ten match did not disappoint and both teams got after it till the final buzzer.
Minnesota may be known for their offense but VCU rocked their home court advantage and took an early lead over the Gophers. Ignited by 2 early buckets from Camille Calhoun and a follow up from Captain Keira Robinson the Rams went on a 6-0 run before Kenisha Bell sank the first jump shot for the visitors. Robinson added a 3 pointer for good measure and the Rams held a 13-12 advantage at the first break.
The early scoring had the Rams feeling confident, but that would erode in the second quarter after Calhoun went down under the basket and left the game. VCU hit a scoring drought and struggled to get their press going to spark the offense. The Gophers took advantage of the opportunity and displayed their offensive prowess by going hard and outscoring the Rams 29-9 and turning a 1 point advantage into a 19 point deficit for the home team.
This VCU team has incredible fight and they know it. Coach O’Boyle is “so impressed with how our players fight back. We never feel like we’re down, especially with how we play defense and how we can create tempo.” True to form that is exactly what the Rams did. They came out swinging in the 2nd half and that’s when things got interesting. Isis Thorpe started the movement by making 3 of 4 free throws early into the third quarter. She contributed one third of the Rams production from the line during this segment. VCU also made progress under the glass as they mixed up shooting and added layups into their arsenal. They outscored the Gophers 25-16 and cut the opposition’s lead from 21 to 10 during the quarter.
How do you start outscoring an offensive powerhouse? According to Robinson it’s all about heart. “We had NOTHING to lose. Going in the half down 20 so it was all about heart so that’s what we played with the whole second half.” She added, “We had tremendous fight. I would take these girls over any body, any day, any opponent, any big conference. They’re like my sisters and we fought tonight.” This captain isn’t just talk she and her fellow senior leaders have been down in games before and they’ve come back. O’Boyle thinks the experience of her players helps them and that “they have a confidence among themselves that they know ‘Hey, we can get this going!’.” In addition to being the MOST vocal on the court and in the locker room which makes her an effective floor general during play, Robinson was the leading producer for the Rams against the Gophers contributing 20 points to the stat sheet. Her final layup in the last 2 seconds of the third quarter had both her team and fans on their feet and primed for the final 10 minutes of battle.
Not the Result We Wanted
The final quarter was intense. The Rams and Gophers went point for point adding 22 points each. The final 10 minutes VCU went to war. They fell just short of their goal and it wasn’t the result they wanted. They came within 8 points of the Gophers during the home stretch. Robinson and her team were true warriors going until the final buzzer against another very talented and resilient team. In the end the successful disruption of the Rams’ press in the second quarter combined with the scoring power of Carlie Wagner, who gave her team 26, and Kenisha Bell, who added 24, allowed Minnesota to take the win on the road.
.Minnesota is a high production team and the Rams knew it would be a battle. Both teams came off decisive wins for their season openers. The Gophers broke the 100 point mark defeating Harvard 103 – 87. The Rams rolled past Coppin State in a 73-44 victory. The Gophers averaged almost 84 PPG last season. In contrast the Rams didn’t make it to 80 during regulation in a single game. It’s very early in the season and there were sloppy moments for both teams. The VCU defense helped the Rams prevent a blowout and it kept the tempo high providing opportunities for offensive maneuvers.
Coach O’Boyle knows that when you aren’t making shots it can impact confidence. She wants the team to learn how to handle that better. She said “There’s obviously some execution things that I’ve got to get us better at so that we’re a few more points ahead and the next time we have a team like this we can get the win.” VCU has experienced leadership this year and the Rams are going to stretch their team with a challenging non-conference schedule. As O’Boyle puts it “we’re going to roll the balls out there and see what we can do. Hopefully those games will prepare us to go into the A-10. The A-10 is going to be great again this year.”
The Rams will head back to the BDC to work on execution. Their game stats took a hit from that challenging second quarter. They ended 32% from the field, 12% from long range, and 71% from the line. In short they need better looks on offense to compete against teams that can score and they get that from their defense. Robinson will tell you, “Coach always talks about defense. That’s what we want to be about. We get in our press and that’s what ignites our break. Gets us going in fast breaks whether it be trapping closer to half court or trapping full court. It doesn’t matter. We want to be aggressive.” If this game is any indicator there will be no problems in that department for the Rams. Buckle up fans it’s going to be an exciting ride this season.
The Rams hit the road for their next 3 games. They return to the Siegel Center for a November 30th 12 pm match with Iona.