Weber sets steals record, contributes key points in VCU's victory over Richmond

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VCU coach applauds junior guard's leadership

RICHMOND — Kendall Anthony, the smallest man on the court, had single-handedly dragged Richmond back into its matinee against VCU, halving a 12-point deficit with coast-to-coast drives and closely guarded 3-pointers.

Cue Briante Weber.

On a morning, yes morning, when he broke the Rams' 29-year-old career steals record, Weber's contributions extended far beyond his thievery, especially when the Spiders crawled close.

First, he blocked an Anthony shot off the dribble. Then he made an acrobatic drive, fell, scrambled back to his feet, tipped the ball from the 5-foot-8 Anthony, tumbled back to the floor and forced a held-ball turnover. On VCU's subsequent possession, Weber hit a left-wing jumper.

The Rams were back in control, on their way to an 81-70 victory at a caffeinated, sold-out Siegel Center unfazed by the 11 a.m., made-for-ESPN2 tipoff.

A junior guard from Chesapeake's Great Bridge High, Weber finished with 14 points, five above his average, five steals, three rebounds, two assists and the block. He made 5 of 9 shots, including his only 3-pointer, and 3 of 4 free throws.

Not bad for a defensive specialist.

"He's really good on offense," Richmond coach Chris Mooney said of Weber. "He can score. He has a really good sense for the game. … As fast and active as he is on defense, he knows when to slow down on offense."

Weber's speed and instincts key the baseline-to-baseline pressure that will make VCU (18-4, 6-1 A-10) an NCAA tournament threat for the fourth consecutive year. When he adds offense, look out, witness the Rams' 18-1 record when he scores in double figures the past three seasons — the exception was November's loss to Georgetown.

Weber has worked diligently to improve his shot, but when asked about the upgrade, VCU coach Shaka Smart veered immediately toward the esoteric.

"He's really improving as a leader," Smart said. "He was an apprentice under Darius Theus for two years. … Darius was the best we've had here at leadership, and there was a void created by his graduation, and Briante's done a really nice job helping to fill that void. He's the most charismatic guy on our team, the most energetic guy on our team."

That charisma and energy were on full view early as Weber continued his pursuit of Rolando Lamb's VCU steals record of 257. Weber needed three Saturday to bypass Lamb, and he recorded them in the first five minutes.

Most impressive, this was Weber's 94th game, 26 fewer than Lamb played in four seasons. Weber leads Division I with 3.9 steals per game, a rate that next season would have him breaking the NCAA career record of 385 set by John Linehan at Providence from 1997-2002.

"I knew I had it," Weber said of the VCU standard. "You didn't see me counting?"

Yes, after each of his early thefts, Weber signaled to the crowd how many more he needed.

"He's got all these antics," Smart said. "He's a trip."

Smart's system and the Rams' collective efforts certainly contribute to Weber's numbers, but mostly it's him. He's not that tall (6-foot-2) or long, but he is a ball magnet on the defensive end, and his teammates and capacity crowds here, 46 and counting, feed off his energy.

"I would say it's 80 percent him," Smart said. "Just the makeup that he has. Quick hands, quick feet, great anticipation skills and, unbelievable, just, energy. Nonstop energy. So he never gives up on plays. … If we ran back and played just half-court defense on every possession, he might still break the record, but he wouldn't have broken it today."

Weber was among six Rams in double figures, balanced scoring that gave VCU its 16th consecutive home victory. Indeed, the Spiders (14-8, 4-3), who lost at 19th-ranked Saint Louis on Wednesday, played in two of college basketball's most hostile arenas in five days.

Anthony (career-best 31 points) and Cedrick Lindsay (21) combined for 37 of 39 Richmond points during a second-half stretch, but they couldn't trump Weber.

"He wanted that record today, and he went and got it," Smart said. "Defensively, there could not be a better player for our style."

Weber was very appreciative of the fans.

"Friday nights are crucial," he said, "so I know it's big for them to get up that (early)."

Did they get up or stay up?

Weber smiled. "Might have been a little bit of both."

Teel can be reached by phone at 757-247-4636 or by email at dteel@dailypress.com. For more from Teel, read his blog at dailypress.com/teeltime and follow him at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP.

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