Two years ago, the University of Richmond women’s basketball team was 15 minutes away from winning the Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament and winning the automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament. Instead, the University of North Carolina at Charlotte rallied from an eight-point deficit to win that game and send the Spiders to the National Invitational Tournament.
Senior center Crystal Goring, who averaged 6.5 points per game for that team, remembered that loss well.
“I felt like that year, we should have been [in the tournament] and it was taken away from us,” Goring said.
This year, the Spiders are putting themselves in position once again to be considered for the tournament. As of Sunday, the Spiders are ranked 55th based on RPI according to RealTimeRPI.com after losing 66-55 against University of Dayton that was played much closer than the final score indicated.
Dayton came into the game with the 61st best RPI and moved up 11 spots with the win. While the Spiders missed a chance to get another quality win, they will have many more opportunities during the next few games.
Besides Richmond, seven other A10 teams are currently in the top-100 RPI and Richmond will play all seven of them in an eight-game stretch. That run started with a 21-point rally on the road to defeat Duquense University, which had been in the top-20 in the RPI rankings, on Wednesday night. Richmond was up by five at one point during the first half against the Flyers, but were unable to hold the lead.
“This isn’t the end all, be all,” Richmond coach Michael Shafer said. “There are some teams ahead of us that we can knock off to get us back in the hunt. We are by no means out of the hunt.”
The next six games will be the true test of whether Richmond will make it to the NCAA Tournament. Richmond has a home game against Charlotte on Wednesday at noon and the 49ers come into the Robins Center with an RPI of 52. The biggest test will be on Feb. 9, when Xavier University comes to the Robins Center. The Musketeers have the seventh-best RPI and are ranked seventh in both the USA Today and AP polls.
Shafer said that playing this run of games is comparable to playing football in the Southeastern Conference.
“It’s physical, it’s going to take its toll on you at some point,” Shafer said. “I think it took its toll on us [Saturday night]. I think the legs got us. The reality is, we need some kids on the bench to step up and give us a few minutes.”
The bench may be the downfall of Richmond. Shafer used five substitutes but three of them played less than three minutes each. The only bench players who played more than 10 minutes were freshmen Genevieve Okoro and Becca Wann. They combined to get seven rebounds and Okoro scored all three of the Spiders’ points from bench players.
Injuries have also reduced Richmond’s depth on the bench. Before the season, junior Rachael Bilney tore her ACL and she was expected to be a key contributer after averaging six points per game last year. Freshman Kristina Puthoff-King suffered a season-ending knee injury on Dec. 22 and was averaging six points per game in 12 games.
Regardless of how much more the bench contributes the rest of the season, the Spiders still have an impressive resume. They are second in the A-10 standings with a 4-1 record and have out of conference wins aganst Appalachian State, Hampton University and Old Dominion which are all top-100 RPI teams. The only team that Richmond lost to which is not in the top-100 is East Tennessee State, which was the second game of the year for Richmond.
While it is debatable if Richmond has done enough to make it into the tournament so far, the team — and more specifically senior guard Brittani Shells — have extra motivation to continue to improve its chances. The team has been selected to participate in the NIT the past two years and will lose three players after the year in Goring, Shells and guard Kara Powell.
Shells is one of the best players in Richmond women’s basketball history with 1860 career points. However, she is still seeking her first tournament appearance.
“She and I have talked about ‘What your legacy will be,’” Shafer said. “‘You will be one of the top scorers in Richmond history. What is it that you want to leave with? What is it that your teams are going to be known for?’”
Shells said that not making the tournament is the one thing that she needs to accomplish before she graduates. “If that happens, I feel like my experience at the University of Richmond will be complete,” Shells said.
Of course, Richmond can secure its spot in the tournament by winning the A10 Tournament. But Goring said she would prefer that the team is in a good enough position where the Spiders don’t have to rely on a strong showing in the A-10 Tournament to make it to the NCAA Tournament.
“We are going to kick butt this time,” Goring said. “We are going to go hard this year because we know what it felt like to almost be there and not have it, so we want to have it this year.”
Contact staff writer Andrew Prezioso at firstname.lastname@example.org