URmore than ready to begin
Spiders open with Morehead State, then face Kentucky
They’ve been on campus since mid-July without the usual breaks. This is an older team. Veterans ran through familiar drills for the millionth time in preseason, extended by about two weeks this year because of the pandemic. The coach worried about keeping their attention.
With scrimmages and exhibitions prohibited, staff members formed two groups that played. And then they did that again and again.
Think Richmond’s Spiders may be ready to go when they open against Morehead State on Friday in Kentucky’s Bluegrass Showcase?
“We need to play. We really, really need to play,” said Chris Mooney, who begins his 16th year as UR’s coach. “We need to get out there and see a different opponent, prepare for a different opponent, finish one game, look forward to the next.”
COVID-19 testing recently increased to three times a week for Division I teams, per NCAA guidelines. Detroit Mercy, scheduled to be UR’s
opener Wednesday night in the Bluegrass Showcase, withdrew from the four-team event Monday night because of a positive test in the Titans’ program.
Friday at 6 p.m. (Richmond Spiders YouTube page), the Spiders start their season against Morehead State, if there are no additional coronavirus-related developments. UR plays No. 10 Kentucky on Sunday afternoon at 1 (ESPN).
Rupp Arena seats 20,500 but will hold a maximum of 3,075, or 15% of capacity, for the Bluegrass Showcase due to the pandemic.
“People come into this building and are always playing in front of [more than 20,000], and it’s a big advantage for us,” UK coach John Calipari said. “Our fans and our fan base in that building play a big part in our success. … Well, if it’s just a building and court, we don’t have the advantage that we usually have. So it’s going to hurt us more than anybody else.”
Kentucky has 10 new players. The Spiders start four seniors and have experienced depth.
“They’ve never played against a college team let alone a team that runs, quote, Princeton kind of stuff,” Calipari said of his Wildcats on Monday. “I’ve got two feet and two hands on the panic button. If I was worried about Richmond right now, I’d have my head pushing it down, too.”
UR and UK have never met. “We’re going down there for [two games]. We’re going to get the opportunity to play Kentucky, but we’ve got [one] before that,” said Jacob Gilyard, Richmond’s senior point guard.
As UR gears up for Morehead State, it’s instructive to note that openers have not been Richmond’s specialty in recent years. Last year, the Spiders trailed Saint Francis by 12 with 3 minutes left in regulation, extended the game to overtime, and won 100-98 at the Robins Center. Two years ago, Longwood came to Richmond’s arena and won 63-58. Three years ago, Delaware took a 45-12 lead on the way to a 76-63 victory at the Robins Center.
Richmond is the favorite in the A-10, according to the league preseason poll. Morehead State went 10-19 against Division I opposition last season and is projected as the eighthplace finisher in the Ohio Valley Conference.
If UR openers of the past few years taught the Spiders anything, it’s that “you have to have tremendous respect for college basketball,” Mooney said.
Richmond’s eagerness to resume game competition is increased by the way last season concluded, according to Gilyard and fifth-year senior forward Grant Golden. The Spiders were 24-7 after a 14-4 A-10 finish and positioned for their first NCAA tournament bid since 2011. Then came COVID-19, and the stoppage of sports.
“What happened last year at the end is definitely going to fuel our fire this year,” said Golden, a 6-foot-10 four-year starter.