Giant killers again? Spiders need strong finish

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — The results suggest that with a few weeks left in the regular season, Richmond has done what it needs to do to be in the NCAA tournament conversation.

Quality wins against power conference schools Florida, Mississippi State and Missouri, a home blowout of No. 21 Temple and a victory against Old Dominion and its high RPI all have enhanced the Spiders' chances of going to the tournament for the first time in six years.

But proving time is still ahead. Richmond (18-6, 7-2 Atlantic 10) plays at another conference contender, Rhode Island (19-3, 7-2), on Wednesday night, and closes with a rugged stretch against three other top teams in the conference: Xavier, Dayton and Charlotte.

"We're just focused on trying to finish the conference well and trying to be, if not in the top spot, fighting for the top spot at the end of it," senior David Gonzalvez said after Richmond drubbed No. 21 Temple 71-54 at home Saturday. "Each game is huge for us."

The Spiders have one of the most unusual histories in college basketball, with a well-earned reputation for pulling NCAA tournament upsets, but also a tradition of rarely doing enough noise-making in the regular season to garner any national attention.

When Richmond beat Mississippi State and Missouri in the South Padre Island Invitational in November and got votes in the Top 25, the school said it was the first time since 1986 the Spiders even got a mention in the rankings. The Spiders have been ranked just three times ever, in 1954, 1955 and 1986, and have been to the tournament just seven times, last in 2004.

But when they have gone, they have often made headlines.

In 1991, the Spiders became the first No. 15 seed to win a game in tournament history when they stunned Syracuse 73-69. They also took out fifth-seeded Charles Barkley and Auburn in 1984, defending champion Indiana in 1988, and third-seeded South Carolina in 1998.

Now, it's as though they feel another memorable opportunity just ahead.

"I think we're getting more and more hungry with each game," Gonzalvez said. "I think everybody realizes the importance of this season and how special this season could be."

Gonzalvez and Ryan Butler are the only two seniors in coach Chris Mooney's playing rotation, but with guard Kevin Anderson, forward Justin Harper and center Dan Geriot all juniors, this is a team that was built to be challenged, and to perform, this season.

"Once we had the schedule solidified, we met with the team and passed out our nonconference schedule," Mooney said, "just so they could see that we believed that we could be this good and we believed that we could win these games, and also so that we could have an understanding of how much we needed to work to get ourselves ready."

In his sixth season, it's all been part of Mooney's rebuilding plan.

"These guys have worked very, very hard, and not only have worked hard this week and this season, but have worked hard to build this program to where we can be considered an elite team in the A-10 and a national basketball program," said Mooney, whose record is 75-47.

"Any kind of credit they can get, we're going to try to take advantage of," he said.

Temple was 15th in the unofficial RPI standings and Rhode Island was higher, and Mooney used that to draw a confidence-building comparison. "We told them it's like playing Syracuse and Michigan State, because those are the teams that are right next to them," he said.

It's the kind of thinking his team has learned to embrace, and to thrive on.

"Our nonconference schedule, that was to set us up for big games like this," Anderson said after scoring 29 points in the victory against the Owls, "and Rhode Island is going to be even bigger than this one because we're coming off a big win. We can't let down."