By Matt Ensor, VCU Athletic Communications Graduate Assistant
RICHMOND, Va. – Ten games into the 2010-2011 VCU Women's Basketball season, the Rams are preparing for what 2011 will bring. They open conference play Sunday at Kaplan Arena at William & Mary Hall versus the Tribe. While the conference schedule will bring a new set of challenges for the Black & Gold, the Rams have already established some answers for those challenges.
CHALLENGE: THE COLONIAL ATHLETIC ASSOCIATION CAN SCORE WITH ANYONE
The big names of the CAA can fill it up better than anyone else, and they have the numbers to prove it. As of December 31, three of the top five scorers in the entire country came from the CAA. James Madison's Dawn Evans (1st – 26.1 ppg), Delaware's Elena Delle Donne (2nd – 26.0 ppg), and VCU's Courtney Hurt (pictured, right) (5th – 24.6 ppg) are some of the most potent offensive players in the country.
The good news for the Rams is Hurt has already shown she can score with the best of them. The only thing more impressive than Hurt being the fifth leading scorer in the nation (she has been in the top two for most of the year) is the fact that she is leading the nation in rebounding at 13.3 boards per game. The junior from Conyers, Ga., is a double-double waiting to happen, which she has tallied in every game this season for VCU.
CHALLENGE: FINDING BALANCED OFFENSIVE SUPPORT
While Hurt has been scoring at a blistering pace, her offensive support hasn't been as consistent. In several of VCU's non-conference games, Hurt was the only Ram to score in double figures. Only one other Ram had scored in double digits in back-to-back games until the emergence of redshirt-sophomore Sonia Johnson (pictured, left). Beginning with her 19-point performance in VCU's victory over Coppin State, Johnson has gone on to score in double digits in each of the Rams last five games. She is averaging 16.6 points per game during that stretch and has become the Rams' second leading scorer on the season.
An even more recent scoring emergence has come from redshirt-junior Andrea Barbour. Since completing her transfer from Patrick Henry Community College at the end of fall semester, Barbour was able to play in VCU's non-conference finale at Radford. She scored within seconds of checking into the game, and her 10 points and six rebounds in her VCU debut gave the Rams a glimpse of the Charlottesville, Va., native's knack for scoring. The Black & Gold hope Barbour can join Johnson in continuing their offensive output.
CHALLENGE: DUO DOMINATES CONFERENCE YOUTH MOVEMENT
There have been five Rookie of the Week honors given out by the CAA so far this season. Hofstra's Kate Loper and William & Mary's Kaitlyn Mathieu have won every one of the weekly honors. The pair has established early on that they are the top young aces in the CAA, but VCU's youth contingency is a little more widespread.
The VCU freshman trio of Jacqueline Brewer (pictured, right), Zakia Williams and Robyn Parks has combined to log 331 minutes so far this season and each has played in at least nine games. The recent return from injury of fellow freshman Shekinah Henry has given Head Coach Beth Cunningham a fourth rookie to insert into the game. While other teams in the conference may only play one or two freshmen, VCU has the fortune of a handful that Cunningham isn't afraid to use.
CHALLENGE: CLEANING THE BOARDS
No team shoots 100 percent from the field. In the CAA, the highest team field goal percentage is Drexel at 43.6 percent, which means when a shot is attempted there is a better than 50/50 chance there will be a rebound.
This emphasis on the importance of rebounding plays right into one of the Rams' strengths. VCU is third in the conference in rebounding margin behind Hurt's 13.3 caroms per game. Two other Rams, Johnson and junior Chelsea Snyder, have had games of nine rebounds thus far. If VCU can keep winning the battle of the boards and continue to give Hurt rebounding support, VCU can win one of the keys to any game: rebounding.
Every season brings every team in the country a new set of challenges. VCU's play to this point in the season has shown the Rams can handle a variety of challenges. A look beyond the wins and losses shows there's plenty to look forward to as the Black & Gold march into CAA play.