Unrivaled Competition

Unrivaled Competition
Photo by Alan Hubbard

If you like fierce competition, gravity-defying athleticism, nail-biting contests and the roar of a crowded arena, then the Rhody Rams-Providence College rivalry is the ticket for you. The Rams defeated PC 75 to 68 on Saturday, Dec. 2, before an ecstatic home crowd at the Ryan Center in Kingston.

This intrastate rivalry began during the 1920-21 season, was interrupted periodically over the decades and finally renewed with deepening intensity about 30 years ago. With this big win, the Rams’ season is shaping up to be as exciting as last year, when the team captured the 2017 Atlantic 10 Championship and made it to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

While the annual PC-URI matchup always delivers a packed house, heated competition and soaring blood pressure, the Rhody Rams’ renown goes much deeper. URI has been turning heads on the court ever since legendary coach Frank Keaney’s Eureka! moment during a Boston Bruins game in 1928 led him to invent the fast break.

The coach and chemistry professor (he invented the team’s color, Keaney Blue) amassed a 401-124 record from 1920 through 1948 turned the Rams into a running, passing and attacking squad, effectively changing how the game of basketball is played. His basketball reinvention earned Keaney induction in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1960.

And in the last 40 years, URI teams have kept the momentum going. During the 1977-1978 season, the Rams beat Providence College two out of three times, the last victory coming in the ECAC tourney, which put them in the 32-team NCAA field for an opening-round game. Precisely one decade later, the 1987-1988 team reached NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16. And exactly a decade after that, the 1997-1998 squad went one better, marking the greatest run in Rhody’s NCAA history by reaching the Elite 8 and coming within a hair’s breadth of making the Final Four.

Now, following on the heels of a A10 championship season and exactly a decade after that Elite 8 appearance, could URI be poised for even greater glory?