Navy's basketball team has a score to settle with the University of Richmond, but that's just one aspect of what should be an interesting game tonight between the two best teams in the Colonial Athletic Association.
The Spiders will arrive at Navy's Halsey Field House for the 7:30 p.m. game tied for first place with the Midshipmen. Each is 12-1 in the conference, although Navy is 23-4 overall and Richmond 22-4. But among Richmond's league victories is one over the Midshipmen.
"They'll want to avenge that loss," Navy Coach Paul Evans said of his players, "especially because they think they blew it in the second half.
"We need to handle their press a little better. Last time, [John] Davis had five steals and [Greg] Beckwith had three or four. We gave up some points, not really on defense, but on offense. We need to play with more hustle and intensity. It seemed like they wanted it more. We played pretty well in the first half, and if we had put together another half like it, we'd have been in good shape. But they hold the ball a little. And we didn't get too much from the boards and we couldn't run."
Were it not for that 67-61 loss Jan. 23 in Richmond, Navy would have a 17-game winning streak.
This will be the last game of the regular season, and the conference tournament will begin Saturday. So, it will be a doubly important game, because while the winner of the conference tournament goes to the NCAA tournament, anyone else will wait by the phone. Evans thinks both Richmond and Navy should make the NCAA tournament "based on merit," no matter who wins the conference tournament. But every victory helps.
"We both should be set," he said. "But Al Maguire was here this morning and we were talking about the Pac-10. I said I figured they would take two teams. I mean the Pac-10 doesn't have a team in the top 25. But Al said he thought, with all the politics, they'd take three. It's things like that that will hurt us."
Navy won its first game of the 1985 NCAA tournament, and Richmond won twice in '84. "It may come down to winning the league playoffs," said Richmond Coach Richard Tarrant. "Anybody planning to get in without winning it is just going to be rolling the dice."
Navy's David Robinson and Richmond's John Newman lead their teams in scoring. Robinson, who had 23 points in Navy's 55-52 victory over Army Saturday, is averaging 21.7 points, 13.0 rebounds and six blocked shots. Newman, a 6-7 senior, is second in CAA scoring with a 21.9 average.
Senior forward Vernon Butler is starting again for the Midshipmen, although he isn't 100 percent after hurting a knee and having flu. He is averaging 15.7 points and 7.9 rebounds. Fellow senior Kylor Whitaker, a smooth shooter who is a threat anywhere inside of 20 feet, is averaging 12.7 points.
"He's an excellent shooter," said Tarrant, "and [Doug] Wojcik is a good point guard." Wojcik averages 7.2 assists.
Robinson played well in the second half and overtime period against Army, after catching a little heat from Evans at halftime. Evans would like to see Robinson produce for 40 minutes, but it isn't an absolute necessity, even in such an important game as this.
"It would make it a hell of a lot easier," Evans said. "But people underestimate the rest of our team. We can hang with them if he's not there for 40 minutes. But if he has a great game, they'll have some trouble."
Richmond is just getting used to playing without Davis, a senior forward, who broke his right elbow against James Madison Feb. 13 in Richmond. Two days later, Richmond suffered its conference loss, 73-58, to George Mason.
"We're doing our best," Tarrant said. "We're not as sharp, but we're starting to get a different chemistry."