RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Darius Theus remembers well the thrashing No. 19 VCU took the last time the Rams played at Richmond.

"Down by 30 I think at one point," the Rams' senior point guard recalled quickly this week. "... They came out and just straight attacked us. We were not aggressive at all during that part of the game."

VCU rallied to make it respectable, losing 72-60. It is the Spiders only win in the teams' last eight meetings and the Rams will return to the sold-out Robins Center on Thursday night.

The game will mark the first time the schools have met as conference rivals since 2001, the year before the Spiders moved to the Atlantic 10. The Rams (16-3, 4-0) made the same move last summer.

Even before they became conference rivals again — they played once a year in December — it was a game everyone looked forward to, VCU coach Shaka Smart said.

"I think, for the fans, they might want the game even more than they do a normal game," said Smart, in his fourth year at VCU. "I remember when I got the job here, several people came up to me and said 'I don't care how you do all season except you've got to beat Old Dominion and Richmond.'"

The schools combined to give the city of Richmond its most memorable basketball season ever two years ago. The Spiders reached the round of 16 in the NCAA tournament before losing to Kansas, and the Rams beat Kansas as part of their stunning tournament run to the Final Four.

But their meeting earlier that season still stings the Rams.

"I definitely do remember that," said Troy Daniels, another Rams' senior starter. "I probably will never forget that. It's going to be in the back of my head playing on Thursday, but we have a new team."

Which doesn't mean he, Theus and Smart haven't brought it up plenty this week.

"Me and Darius have talked to the guys about it," Daniels said.

The coach said, "We've talked about it a little bit already. I have a hard time remembering a game that was as tough to handle as that one, during the game. They were on it that night and we were not."

The Rams rolled over the Spiders last season, 73-51, at home.

VCU, which broke into the Top 25 last week for the first time since the 1984-85 season, will bring a 13-game winning streak into the game, and gaudy defensive statistics that have become its trademark.

The Rams lead the country in steals, averaging 12.9 per game, and have forced 21.2 turnovers per game, also tops in the country. During their winning streak, their average victory margin is 21.8 points.

Richmond coach Chris Mooney said maintaining poise against VCU is the key to not letting a turnover or two lead to a feeding frenzy of layups when facing the Rams' relentless 94-foot pressure.

"They're so aggressive that they try to take you out of things, and they're usually successful," he said. "What we're trying to prepare for is not just for the pressure, but for when we don't handle it well. When we have a turnover, when we have a stretch where we don't do well. It's inevitable that you're not going to handle it perfectly every single trip down the court. Nobody would."

The game is the first of two meetings between the schools — the game at VCU on March 6 will come on the Rams' Senior Day — and the conference implications make it more meaningful, Spiders guard Darien Brothers said. It also helps Richmond that the Rams are ranked and have been riding high.

"It gives us a chance to beat a ranked team, which will help out our resume," he said.

The Spiders have won seven of their last 12 games against ranked teams. Richmond will again be without Derrick Williams, their only experienced frontcourt player, who is sidelined by a left ankle sprain.

That makes Brothers even more of a focal point for the Spiders. In his last game, an 81-61 victory against Charlotte, the senior who grew up in Richmond made 8 of 11 3-point shots and scored 39 points.


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