George Washington-VCU Preview


VCU is aiming to win its first Atlantic 10 tournament, and another suffocating defensive effort may give them that chance.

George Washington, however, isn't likely to make it easy.

The No. 23 Rams will look for another strong performance from Briante Weber as they attempt to stifle the Colonials' shooting in this semifinal matchup Saturday.

Second-seeded VCU (25-7) likely has already secured at least an at-large berth for the NCAA tournament, but the team is looking to qualify as the conference champion after losing in the title game to Saint Louis last year.

The top-seeded Billikens are out of the way this time, falling 71-68 to St. Bonaventure on Friday, hours before VCU routed seventh-seeded Richmond 71-53.

"We definitely came here with the mindset to win this thing," Weber said.

Weber could play a major role in accomplishing that after hitting 8 of 10 from the floor to finish with 18 points against the Spiders. That was a vastly improved effort for the junior guard, who totaled 11 points on 4-of-11 shooting in his previous two games.

Weber, averaging a career-high 9.4 points this season, leads the nation with 3.5 steals and is a two-time conference defensive player of the year.

"We haven't been confused with the Showtime Lakers in terms of the points we put on the board," coach Shaka Smart said. "We take points any time we can get them."

The Rams didn't have much trouble getting them against George Washington (24-7) on Feb. 12, winning 92-75 behind 25 points from Treveon Graham and Weber's season high-tying seven steals.

Graham, who had 14 points on 4-of-11 shooting Friday, and Weber weren't nearly that effective on the road against the Colonials on Jan. 14, combining for 20 points and four steals in a 76-66 defeat.

Another win over the Rams could be enough for George Washington to solidify a spot in the NCAA tournament. It would also put the Colonials in the conference final for the first time since winning it in 2007.

They're relishing the underdog role after they were picked to finish 10th in the preseason. Instead, they came in third thanks in large part to shooting 46.3 percent from the field to rank third in the Atlantic 10.

"We're a 3 seed, we earned it and it's great," coach Mike Lonergan said. "But you know sometimes I feel like a 10 seed. We were picked 10th. I don't feel like we're sitting here like Saint Louis and VCU. We're playing, but I don't feel like we're the favorite."

George Washington turned in another impressive performance from the floor, shooting 50.8 percent - 9 for 21 from behind the arc - in an 85-77 win over Massachusetts on Friday.

The Colonials were even better against VCU this season, hitting 54.4 percent from the field over two meetings, including 56.3 on Jan. 14.

Patricio Garino had a career-high 25 points and seven rebounds in that meeting, while Kevin Larsen had 22 while connecting on 9 of 11 field goals.

The frontcourt duo came up big against the Minutemen, combining for 27 points on 11 of 16 from the floor. They helped pick up the slack for Maurice Creek, who missed 9 of 12 shots and finished with 12 points.

The senior guard was averaging 22.0 points over the final three regular-season games, but totaled just 21 against VCU this season.

The winner of this game will meet either the upstart Bonnies or fourth-seeded St. Joseph's in Sunday's championship game.