Rutgers picks up speed with patented 55-press
C. Vivian Stringer says it often this year — the Rutgers women's basketball team is not a fast team.
Stringer likes fast. Her "55 defense" — a scheme that involves a stifling full court press in which players must repeatedly race from one end of the court to the other — is predicated on fast.
So when the Scarlet Knights tried to implement the scheme early in the year, it was met with mixed results. While the press worked at times, more often than not, opponents broke it, leading to easy buckets.
But the press came alive during the Knights' most recent stretch, and it's keeping the team's postseason hopes alive — if only barely.
"The 55 can go when you have the right people in there, and we had the right people," Stringer said after RU's 59-50 loss to Georgetown. "I never worried about that. I always worried about what kind of mindset we're playing with. We're not a great shooting team, and that's a fact. That's why the best chance we have is to steal the ball and get points on layups."
The search for those "right people" usually begins with senior forward Myia McCurdy. The speedy McCurdy is traditionally at the head of the press, using her speed and defensive prowess to fluster opposing players and force mistakes.
"The job description of being at the top, you've got to be relentless and you've got to be aggressive and you have to be excited," McCurdy said. "So every time I get up there I get an adrenaline rush and I'm just trying to force as many steals as possible — I'm happy to play it."
McCurdy and sophomore forward Chelsey Lee have both been featured as the focal point of the press this year, while Stringer continues to rotate the guards — typically senior Brittany Ray and sophomores Nikki Speed and Khadijah Rushdan — to try and find the perfect combination.
With RU down for more than 20 minutes against South Florida Saturday, the Knights tried their hand at the press in the second half.
Though the Bulls had only six turnovers in the opening period, that number doubled to an even dozen in the second half. The Knights scored nine points off turnovers in the second half alone against South Florida, crucial in a game decided by only eight points.
"We found a way to win and before we found ways to lose," Stringer said after the victory over the Bulls. "I thought the team stayed composed, and we played hard in our 55-press. We knew what we needed to do and not foul. I appreciate the fight that was there."
Though an effective press does not always guarantee a victory — Georgetown being a prime example — the evolution of the defense over the course of the season is crucial to the Knights' success. With seven regular season games left on the slate, expect to see a lot more of the 55.
"Every year we get to a point where we struggle, trying to get the 55's positions together because it's a tough press," McCurdy said in January. "But right now I think we've got it, I think we're doing pretty good. We've spent a lot of time working on it and [Stringer] spent a lot of time breaking every position down and we're comfortable with it."