Each week a different person has provided a spark for the University of Richmond basketball team. This past weekend it was Danielle Bell's turn.
The freshman guard from Virginia Beach scored 16 points and 17 points respectively in wins over La Salle University and Fordham University. She also shot eight of 11 from three-point range, including a career-high five three-pointers against Fordham.
"She was great," head coach Michael Shafer said. "I have been saying since September that Danielle has a load of potential and can be as good as she wants to be. I think this weekend she played with a great deal of confidence on both ends of the court."
The Spiders (10-12, 4-3 in the Atlantic-10), coming off a home stand in which they lost two games by a combined eight points, were looking for a spark.
Friday, the Spiders traveled to Philadelphia and defeated La Salle 70-48. Two days later, they traveled to the Bronx and defeated Fordham 78-68.
"I think this was huge," Shafer said. "To get back on the road and play La Salle, a good basketball team, that was a big win for us. To go on the road and play as well as we did, the wins were great but to play as well as we did, it gives us a lot of confidence with George Washington University coming in here on Saturday."
Richmond used early leads to defeat both opponents. The Spiders jumped out to a 23-8 lead 9 minutes into the game against La Salle. Against Fordham, the Spiders sharpshooters hit six three-point shots in the first half en route to a 42-17 halftime lead.
Sophomore guard Sarah Williams, who scored a combined 27 points in the two contests, said getting an early lead on the road was important for the young team.
"Getting the huge lead in the La Salle game was huge because it was the first game all year that we have been up that much and kept the lead throughout the game," she said. "Every other game we have played this year has been close, and to blow out a team was a definite relief."
Shafer said the big difference between the team now and earlier in the season is that now they are starting to believe in themselves.
"We have been through a lot, and they understand how good they can become," Shafer said. "I'm not sure we are there yet in terms of consistency, but I think they can see we are getting better and moving in the right direction and eventually it is going to become the norm for us to play like this."
Bell said the two road wins had a huge impact of the team's confidence.
"The two wins this weekend helped us get above the .500 mark in conference play," she said. "Everyone played well, and as a team we did what we had to do."
At 4-3 in the A-10, the Spiders are not far behind the elite teams in the league, which Shafer said was something he expected this year.
"I really believe in our kids," he said. "I believe we have the right kids here to compete for an A-10 title. I knew we were young and there would be some pitfalls along the way.
"I do believe that we can compete with anybody in our league. I also think that anybody in our league can beat us. As long as we keep playing with the level of confidence that we have right now, I think good things will happen."
The Spiders will need a high level of confidence this weekend when No. 11 George Washington visits. George Washington is 7-0 in conference play and defeated the Spiders 57-50 on Jan. 9.
Williams said the tough non-conference schedule they played had prepared them for the coming games against George Washington and Temple University.
"I feel that with playing such a tough non-conference schedule, nothing should scare us," she said. 'We have already seen huge, dominating post players, and we have already played against talented, quick guards. I'm excited for these two games because if we play as a team and keep positive, good things are going to happen for us." Shafer said the key to the game this weekend would be rebounding.
"They rebound the basketball as well as anybody we played," he said. "As long as we can keep them from getting second chances, I think we can make this a good basketball game.
"They are also an experienced basketball team with seniors and juniors. They don't get rattled very easily. We have to be able to handle some runs and put together some runs ourselves, but if we are able to do those two things, I think you will see a pretty good basketball game"