Coach Karl Hobbs knows his GW men’s basketball team always has its hands full with Richmond. The Spiders have defeated the Colonials three times in a row dating back to January 2004, with the most recent loss coming on Jan. 22.
Richmond coach Jerry Wainwright “always has something up his sleeve,” Hobbs mused earlier this week. GW (14-5, 6-3 Atlantic 10) will have a chance to snap its losing streak to the Spiders at the Smith Center Saturday at 2 p.m. in an important A-10 match-up.
“They are well coached and they always play well against us,” Hobbs said. “We’ve always had battles at Richmond and unfortunately for us, they’ve come up with the victories the last times we’ve played.”
When GW and Richmond met last month, the Colonials were coming off a two-point loss to Massachusetts in overtime and were hurt by injuries. Junior Pops Mensah-Bonsu had a newly broken nose and was wearing a mask that hampered his sight. Senior T.J. Thompson went down with a hurt knee, which limited his playing time to 20 minutes. The Colonials came out sluggish, turned the ball over 26 times and scored a season-low 59 points against defensive-minded Richmond (12-9, 7-3 A-10).
The key to the Spiders’ success is their ability to control the tempo of the game, Hobbs said. Richmond stifled the Colonials, who were at the time the 11th highest scoring team in the nation.
“They don’t rush their offense,” Hobbs said. “Their style of play is unique. They are going to play their style of defense for 40 minutes.”
While the Colonials face a tough task this weekend, they appear to be out of a mid-season funk that included the loss to Richmond sandwiched in between a loss to U.-Mass. and a one-point loss to Xavier. After beating Dayton at home Jan. 30 and Temple handily on the road last Saturday, GW is in position to assert itself as one of the stronger teams in the conference.
The Colonials’ offense is clicking again, tallying 74 and 82 points in their last two wins, respectively. Wainwright said it will be tough to hamper their up-tempo style but hopes his team’s defense will be enough to smother GW. The Spiders are one of the only teams that has not used zone defense against the Colonials this season.
“You never know,” Hobbs said. “For all I know they could come at us with zone for 40 minutes.”
Richmond successfully slowed down GW last month, and without Mensah-Bonsu at full force, Richmond’s Kevin Steenberge was able to take advantage and score 15 points, most of which came on high percentage shots in the paint. Mensah-Bonsu, along with juniors Alex Kireev and Mike Hall, will have the essential but difficult task of slowing down Steenberge, who is averaging 11.8 points per game.
“We aren’t thinking about one specific player,” junior Mike Hall said. “We know it will be tough.”
Richmond guards Daon Merritt and Andres Sandoval posed major problems for the Colonials as well, scoring a combined 23 points and eight assists. Defensively, the guards were able to force the Colonials into their half-court set, which although improved, has been stagnant at times this season.
“We need to get some shots at the basket,” Hobbs said. “That’s definitely a key.”
While Richmond has owned GW of late, Wainwright said he does not believe the Colonials will roll over. They have the capability, he said, to get out quick and stun opponents.
“The second time around, it’s a whole new animal,” Wainwright said. “To beat GW you need to be at your best. They are a strong, athletic team.”
Assistant athletic director Dom Perno said Saturday’s contest against Richmond is sold out. He suggests that all students arrive at the Smith Center as early as possible. Doors are expected to open at 1 p.m. with the game slated to start at 2 p.m.
For those who do not make it into the arena, the game will be televised nationally on ESPN. Former GW head coach Mike Jarvis will be in attendance as a commentator for the broadcast. Jarvis, who was Hobbs’ high school basketball coach, left Foggy Bottom to serve as coach at St. John’s University from 1998 to 2003.