Assistant Sports Editor
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NORFOLK—There’s a long list of things that make the rivalry between VCU (22-5 overall, 13-2 CAA) and Old Dominion (16-11 overall, 11-4 CAA) great, but atop that list is ODU coach Blaine Taylor.
Following Saturday’s 68-64 loss to VCU which completed a regular season sweep for the Rams, Taylor was less discouraged than he was excited for their next meeting.
“Despite the outcome and no matter what happened here today, the reality is when you go to Richmond, you’re probably going to be playing for even more of the marbles,” said Taylor. “They’ve got bragging rights for a while, but there still looms that possibility. It seems almost inevitable that we’re going to have to win a road game in Richmond to try to win the championship, and that’s just a fact, and we’re quite comfortable with that.”
During the postgame press conference following what was among the most painful losses of the season for the Monarchs, perennial all-CAA guard Kent Bazemore and teammate Donte Hill sat at the podium stoic and dejected, as any player would be after losing a rivalry game of that magnitude. Taylor however, admitted he was humbled but by no means ready to admit defeat.
“We’ve beaten these guys 11 times the last eight years,” added Taylor. “Five of those times we beat them in Richmond, so it’s almost like we’ve got to play two-for-one with these guys.”
The ninth-year head coach, best known for his gift for recruiting big men, has been around the rivalry longer than anyone on either side and isn’t afraid to add fuel to the fire, knowing his team has a history of winning in the postseason. Shaka Smart is fully aware of that as well, and said before the season at CAA media day that he thought Taylor should have been the speaker of honor instead of him, because the Monarchs were the conference champions.
Although VCU and ODU both have long-standing winning cultures which can be directly linked to their current head coaches, Smart and Taylor go about it in contrastingly different ways. Smart manages his players on and off the court with the discipline of a drill sergeant, but also the affection of a parent. During the season he bans the players from posting on Twitter and will never personally speak out, or allow one of his players to say something that might be perceived as controversial.
Taylor on the other hand, instills fire in his team and the ODU community by saying what he is really thinking. After Saturday’s game, he meandered about different aspects of the rivalry while Smart only briefly addressed the X’s and O’s before making a subtle exit – and it is that contrast that creates even more friction between the two sides.
Several Ram players said this week that the VCU-ODU rivalry is more about the fans and the history behind the two programs than it is about the two teams personally not liking each other. That being said, the fans and other members of the programs could not be more open about personally not liking each other. The atmosphere in Norfolk on Saturday was similar to that of a UFC fight, and one woman in the front row of the student section even donned an “IH8VCU” license plate.
Smart and Taylor may not have anything against one another personally, but as competitors, they both embrace the madness of the rivalry in their own ways. Any Ram fan would praise Smart for being polite and politically correct, but every member of the Monarch faithful would back Taylor’s comments – it’s just a different way of going about things.
While controversial, Taylor’s claims about the two teams meeting again this season are not farfetched or even all that questionable. Having beaten the Rams in the CAA tournament each of the past two years, and being the reigning champs of the conference, he’s in a position to have confidence.
He should be careful however, because right now, as even Taylor himself admitted, VCU has the marbles – and the bragging rights.