Stringer seeks strides on glass against Temple
Sure, the Rutgers women's basketball team rides a four game winning streak into tonight's 7 p.m. matchup against Temple.
And yes, the Scarlet Knights (4-2) conquered their struggles of traveling west last weekend by taking home the Hyatt Place Lady Rebel Round-Up in Las Vegas.
Still, head coach C. Vivian Stringer knows how to keep her team levelheaded, and this early on in the season, that could be the difference between winning and losing.
"I want them to laugh and have fun, but in the next two or three weeks we will probably take them through a lot," Stringer said. "They'll probably think, ‘Oh, coach really doesn't like me,' but we see things and we can be small, but we can do something about that smallness."
No one is having more fun right now than junior forward April Sykes, who led the Knights in scoring in each of the past two games.
Not only is Sykes pacing the team offensively as she always knew she could, she is starting to knock down shots from beyond the arc, something she struggled to do in her first two seasons on the Banks.
Sykes delivered a 6-for-9 shooting clip from 3-point range in Las Vegas to earn the Tournament MVP title, putting to fruition the promise she showed out of high school as a deadly 3-point shooter.
For the Starkville, Miss., native, it was just a matter of letting the game come to her.
"After the North Carolina A&T game I was a little frustrated with myself personally," Sykes said. "A lot of people saw it on my face and I wasn't feeling like myself. I've been here so long and I've struggled for so long and I felt like it was time for me to break out. I had a conversation with coach [Chelsea] Newton and she just told me to let it flow."
The improved production does not end with Sykes though, as a number of Knights also jumped on the scoring wagon for the team to see success.
Overall, Stringer's squad boasted a 48.6 field goal percentage in Nevada, thanks in part to the performances of junior Khadijah Rushdan and sophomore Monique Oliver.
Oliver established a presence in her return to her native Las Vegas, averaging 14.5 points over the two wins, while Rushdan, the team's leading scorer, did her part from the perimeter.
The junior guard averaged 13.5 points for the tournament to help guide the Knights to their first two road wins this season, which should bode well for the team as the season unfolds.
"It's a big deal because it's always hard to play on the road," Rushdan said. "Whenever you're able to get wins being on the road, it makes a big difference. I think it helped our confidence knowing we can be on the road and actually win while we're not playing at the RAC."
But if the Knights want their win streak to be intact after their battle with the Owls (2-4) tonight, they will have to turn their attention to two of the most fundamental components of the game –– defense and rebounding.
Opponents are outrebounding Rutgers by four boards a game on average, while two of the worst rebounding performances of the season for Stringer's team came in its past two wins against Pacific and Oregon State – two programs that do not measure up to the team's Big East competition.
The Knights were edged on the glass by a combined 15 rebounds in the two games, while Stringer noted weaknesses on defense as well.
The Hall of Fame coach turned to the 2-3 zone more than usual in the early going this season, a reflection of the team's inability to play man-to-man due to an extra focus on offense this offseason.
Temple welcomes the Knights to McGonigle Hall fresh off a two game road losing streak, but look to make it two straight seasons of beating Rutgers after a 61-52 win last season in Piscataway.
And with 6-foot-3 center Joelle Connelly and 6-foot-4 center Victoria Macaulay on their roster, the Owls have no intentions of dropping their third straight.
Still, the Knights come into the game with the past four wins behind them and according to Stringer, they can easily turn it around on the glass despite an obvious height deficiency.
"You can be the smallest team in the world, but you know that you can be far, far better if you just block out," Stringer said. "A person 5-foot-9 can block out a 6-foot-3. You may not get the rebound yourself, but you can block them out and we're not doing that. That's something I've got to emphasize."