Knights return with tourney title in Vegas
LAS VEGAS — It was a happy Thanksgiving weekend for the Rutgers women's basketball team, as the Scarlet Knights traveled west for the second time in three weeks.
But this time the result was a little different.
After a convincing 71-39 win over Pacific Friday, the Knights faced an Oregon State team the next day that gave Rutgers all it could handle early on. The Knights eventually came away with a 65-52 victory to win the Hyatt Place Lady Rebel Round-Up, the second straight holiday tournament win for Rutgers after winning last year's Paradise Jam.
The first half saw seven lead changes along with five ties, as Rutgers (4-2) trailed Oregon State (4-2) at the half, 33-30.
But the Knights came out firing in the second half and forced the Beavers into mistakes with the 55-press, opening with a 16-0 run. Oregon State never came back within six points.
"We weren't pressing at the beginning and we needed to step it up, so we started going to our 55 defense and it always kind of fuels our fire," said head coach C. Vivian Stringer.
Junior forward April Sykes earned tournament MVP honors, as she led Rutgers in scoring both nights, registering 18 against the Beavers and scoring 19 the night before versus Pacific.
"They might not have been — they were," said Sykes on the two games possibly being the two best of her career. "I just think that I was relaxed and my teammates Nikki Speed and Khadijah [Rushdan] did a great job of getting me involved."
Monique Oliver, a Las Vegas native, came up big playing in her hometown for the first time, scoring 16 points — 12 in the first half — along with a career-best six blocks and four steals against the Beavers.
The Knights' weekend started out on Friday, when terrific defense and great ball movement on offense lifted Rutgers to an easy 71-39 victory over Pacific (2-3) in the opening round of the tournament.
Rutgers completely dominated the first half in all areas of the game, leading Pacific, 38-11, at the half and holding the Tigers to just 3-of-23 shooting from the field, as well as forcing 15 turnovers. The Knights continued their great play in the second half, when they led by as many as 41 points (65-24) at one juncture of the game.
Sykes catapulted the offense for Rutgers, going 8-of-12 shooting from the field to lead the charge offensively.
"I thought [Sykes] was really relaxed and calm," Stringer said. "She didn't seem to be rushing things. She stayed in a flow and let the ball come to her. We have to have everyone know what that feels like. It was great for us and for April and I like that the team is unselfish."
Sykes was just one of four players for Rutgers to score in double figures, as Rushdan (14), Oliver (13), and Chelsey Lee (10) all also reached the double-digit mark.
Knights had great ball movement and shared the basketball, totaling 19 assists for the game, led by Nikki Speed's eight.
"I think what we're seeing at least through these five games that we've played is that they have demonstrated that they're unselfish and they're willing to make the extra pass," Stringer said. "They had some beautiful passes. It just flowed and that was good."
Rutgers held Pacific to just 22.3 percent shooting for the game and forced a total of 28 turnovers. The win improved Rutgers to 2-0 all-time against Pacific. The 32-point margin of victory was the largest for the Knights since an 84-49 victory last November over Kean.
Rutgers returns to action again on Wednesday, when they travel to Philadelphia to take on Temple hoping that their great play doesn't stay in Vegas.