Sophomores lead way in decisive win
Rutgers honored three seniors of the women's basketball team before yesterday's game against Louisville, but three sophomores outshined the trio and stole the show.
In the most convincing Big East win of the season, a 72-52 decision, sophomores Khadijah Rushdan, Nikki Speed and April Sykes built an insurmountable lead behind a season-best 52 percent field goal clip.
"Everybody came ready to play and we played as a team and we executed and played defense," said senior forward Myia McCurdy. "Now we have our locker room back and [head coach C. Vivian Stringer] is proud of us and that's a great thing."
The Scarlet Knights also limited themselves to just 14 turnovers, but forced 26 of their own and scored 27 points off turnovers.
"I think at times we had some sloppy play," said Louisville head coach Jeff Walz. "It was entertaining to see how many possible ways we could find to turn the ball over."
Rushdan led all scorers with 16 points on 5-of-11 shooting with a series of flashy layups in the second half to go along with five boards.
"We have been known to show up late but this is as late as it gets," Stringer said. "It was nice to see us begin to put it all together with as many players putting it all together."
In the first half, however, Speed and Sykes led the team to an 11-point halftime advantage. Speed dished out six assists and scored five first-half points and Sykes scored seven points in the first 20 minutes on a perfect 3-of-3 shooting.
For the seniors, guard Brittany Ray scored nine points in her final game at the Louis Brown Athletic Center and got the loudest ovation as she came out of the game with 1:54 left. Center Rashidat Junaid helped RU pull away in the second half with five quick points and 10 on the game and forward Myia McCurdy contributed four points and four boards.
"It's like a 100 percent turnaround. I'm so happy we won," Junaid said. "We will continue this throughout the Big East and hopefully through the NCAA's."
To pull away in the first half, Speed knocked down two mid-range jumpers and her passing ability provided the spark for RU to take its first major lead. Moving down the court on a fast break, Speed threw a no-look, bullet pass to freshman forward Monique Oliver for an old-fashioned and-one and a 28-20 lead.
Speed struck again in the last second of the first half. She bricked a three-point attempt, but then stole a pass the other way and found Oliver for a second and-one as the clock expired, putting Rutgers up 34-23 at the break.
The win for the Knights (16-13, 9-7) locks up the No. 6 seed in the Big East Tournament in the final regular season game of the year. As the sixth seed in the Tournament, Rutgers faces the winner of South Florida (11) and Cincinnati (14) Saturday at 6 p.m. at the XL Center in Hartford, Conn.
"I think that it was major because we have been struggling to get 40 or 50 points," Stringer said. "We've been struggling all year. … In order for us to be prepared for the Big East, we needed to have an impressive win. Quite honestly the score did matter for our confidence because we didn't have any."