Nathan Cayo recently gave Richmond opponents one more scorer to highlight on defensive scouting reports, which were already crowded.
Cayo, a 6-foot-7 junior, averaged 12 points in the Spiders’ last three games. He is the only UR starter who hasn’t scored more than 1,000 career points.
Cayo (756 career points) completed Richmond’s 24-7 regular season with a scoring average of 8.9, and his recent uptick further complicates guarding the Spiders.
“To get him going, to get him scoring the ball, and slashing, and just moving in general, for us is huge,” UR forward Grant Golden said.
It was not happenstance that Richmond’s most complete A-10 victory, a 74-47 win at La Salle on Feb. 12, began with a Cayo drive-and-dunk move.
The Spiders have won nine of 10 and are seeded second heading into the A-10 quarterfinals Friday night at Barclays Center in New York. UR will face the winner of Thursday’s game between No. 7 seed Davidson (16-14, 10-8) and No. 10 seed La Salle (15-15, 6-12).
Cayo’s limited path to points involves power drives and free throws, almost exclusively. He’s taken only a handful of jumpers this season. But his value to Richmond is important because of the defensive attention directed to the 6-10 Golden, a focus of constant interior traps.
Golden finished the regular season with 100 assists (3.4 per game), and many of them went to Cayo. UR coach Chris Mooney recognized Cayo as the Spiders’ best cutter in Mooney’s 15 seasons at Richmond.
Review some of UR’s most notable wins this season. In an overtime defeat of Vanderbilt, Cayo scored 20. When the Spiders beat Wisconsin, he scored 10. One of Richmond’s best road wins came at Rhode Island, where Cayo scored 19. In Friday night’s victory at Duquesne, Cayo scored 11, with 11 rebounds.
The Spiders average 75 points (second in the A-10 to Dayton) and shoot 47% (second to Dayton). Their scoring ability jumped out in last Tuesday’s 80-63 win over visiting Davidson. Richmond trailed 11-2 and 17-7, then 34-30 at intermission. UR scored 50 in the second half.
“We have the guys to do it. Not everybody could do that, could have so many guys be able to score and contribute,” Mooney said. “And our guys can score at a high level.
“Rather than kind of going through the patterns of the offense, I think we’re trying to score all the time [and] guys have a good sense of when to go shoot, when to throw the ball out, and when to keep moving. I’m really proud to see that, and it puts a lot of pressure on the defense.”
Cayo’s last three games, in which he averaged 9 rebounds to go with the increased scoring, suggest he is primed for postseason.
“I feel like when all five [starters] are being aggressive, that’s when we’re at our best,” he said. “So I want to keep being aggressive.”
The foundation of Richmond’s turnaround from back-to-back 20-loss seasons is defensive improvement. But assume the role of a coach preparing for UR. When Cayo is offensively active, there’s no one among the Spiders’ starting five who can be disregarded. Each has scored 20 or more in a game:
Blake Francis, 6-0 junior: creative and aggressive lefty averages 17.7.
Golden: weighs 255 pounds, but sneaky agile, averages 13.4.
Nick Sherod: 6-4 junior is designated sniper who averages 12.7.
Jacob Gilyard: 5-9 distributor (12.7 ppg, 5.7 apg) can also take over.
Cayo: the X-factor who could push the Spiders’ A-10 tournament run.