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Consistency, depth keys to success for women's hoops

The University of Richmond women's basketball team is currently 14-4 and has won all three of its Atlantic-10 Conference games so far.

In conference play, the women beat La Salle University 65-52 on Jan. 9 and the University of Massachusetts 73-62 on Jan. 16.

Head coach Michael Shafer said he felt the team's 67-52 loss to Drexel University and 78-69 loss to the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga during the St. Peter's Classic were games the team should have won, but thought the team had shown its strength by beating skilled Atlantic Coast Conference teams Clemson University and Wake Forest University.

The team established a strong non-conference record heading into conference play with an 11-4 record, but Shafer said dealing with injuries had hindered the team's goal for the year: to be consistent.

The team played well in its first games, but after the loss to Drexel it lost its competitive edge, guard Kara Powell said. But since then, she said, the players have worked harder in practice and have not looked back.

"If anyone were to look [at the statistics] they'd say things are going well, but I'm more critical as a player," guard Brittani Shells said. "We lost a few we shouldn't have lost, but after that the team got together and talked about strengths and weaknesses."

The team does not do a lot differently to prepare for conference games.

"Basketball players are creatures of habit, change disrupts them," Shafer said.

Although the preparation didn't vary, the players' mindsets changed to 0-0 when conference play began. In every game, Richmond will face teams that have perceived notions of its players, so in order to gain respect in the league the team members need to present themselves as champions, Shafer said.

"The overall objective is just to win," Shells said. Once conference play began, Shells said she also considered the record to be 0-0 again.

"[Now] all that matters is conference games," she said. "Who's going to get to the championship? Every game we just come out ready to play."

Conference play is approached more seriously, Powell said.

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"Basically every game can make or break us," she said. "Drop a game and the season could be done."

Shells leads the league in scoring and Powell is doing well after coming off a redshirt year. There are several players averaging five or more points per game, and Shafer said this spoke to the team's depth.

"There are some good, talented kids stepping up," he said.

Guards Abby Oliver, Danielle Bell and Rachael Bilney and forward Joyous Tharrington have also been playing well, Shafer said. Forwards Katie Holzer and Nikita Thomas have been consistent and Shafer said he hoped to see more from them.

Other than George Washington University, Richmond only faces each competitor once, so it is important that the games be considered a one-shot chance.

"You don't want to look back," Shafer said. "There shouldn't be any What If's."

The team's goal was and always has been to win the Atlantic-10 championship. In order to do so, the team must finish the regular season in the top four and have at least 20 wins, Shafer said.

Attendance at women's games is often low, which Shafer said he thought was because students did not enjoy women's basketball in high school. College games are different, he said.

Powell said she would like to see more students and fans at the games.

"Playing in an environment where there is a lot of noise and fans definitely pumps us up and makes us play better," she said. Without large crowds, the team does not feel as if it is playing home games, she said.

Jana Ross, assistant director of athletic marketing and fan development, said there was a marketing plan for the team. Ross works with area groups like the Girl Scouts of the USA and youth leagues to get them to attend games. Weekly e-mails are sent to the students to inform them about games and the giveaways and promotions during each game.

"We definitely advertise to the students," Ross said.

Contact staff writer Ashley Graham at ashley.graham@richmond.edu

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