Turnovers, rebounding plague Knights in Cali
The Rutgers women's basketball team did not need extra motivation as it approached its weekend excursion to California.
The Scarlet Knights made the same trip two years ago, when the squad played California and Stanford and came away with two decisive losses.
Though four of the same players from that team filled C. Vivian Stringer's roster this time around, the Knights suffered two defeats to kick off the season, as the No. 2 Cardinal gave the Knights (0-2) their parting gift yesterday in the form of a 63-50 loss.
"We learned that you have to play two halves — doesn't matter if it's Cal or Stanford or the Sisters of the Poor," Stringer said. "We should play to our level of expectations, not to what the competition is."
The Cardinals (1-0) came out firing in the second half, shooting 42.9 percent from the field behind 13 points from forward Nnemkadi Ogwumike, who led all scorers with 20 points.
After a first half when the Knights turned the ball over five times, the team picked up its trend from the previous game and struggled offensively to end the game with 15 turnovers.
Four of them came from junior point guard Khadijah Rushdan, who finished the game with just six points and seven assists.
The showing made it two games in a row in which Rushdan failed to generate a double-digit scoring effort and an effective assist-to-turnover ratio, spelling doom for Stringer's team.
But in the first half, turnovers were not the problem for Rutgers.
The Knights entered halftime down just three after a miserable showing on the glass, as the Cardinals out-rebounded Stringer's team 25-15 in the period.
Ten of those boards came on the offensive glass, and with the rebounding advantage came 11 second-chance points, putting the Knights in a hole despite winning the turnover battle, 9-5.
But when it had to, Stanford got on a roll and pulled away almost immediately in the second half.
"Obviously we played a better first half than a second, and it's something we'll address," Stringer said. "I thought we were tired, just a little tired. If you noticed in this game, we played six people. We have to be in better shape."
Still, the Knights got a bit of an unexpected boost from sophomore guard Erica Wheeler, who scored 16 points for the second straight game to lead Rutgers in scoring. The Miami native went 7-for-18 from the field and also got some help from junior forward April Sykes, who went 2-for-6 from 3-point range to finish with 12 points.
Against the Golden Bears (1-0) on Friday in the team's season opener, the same two issues of turnovers and rebounding plagued Stringer's team.
Stringer noted her team was behind Cal the entire game the last time the two teams met, and though the Knights limited the opposition to just two fast break points, they could not win the battle in the paint.
Junior forward Chelsey Lee did her job in the post, as her 10 points and 14 boards paced the team down low.
The rest of Stringer's team struggled on the boards, allowing the Golden Bears to score 24 second chance points and out gain the Knights, 46-37, on the glass en route to a 66-57 victory.
By game's end, the team's 16 turnovers proved to be its demise.
"We addressed the turnovers being key," Stringer said. "The other would be defensive transition. Last time we played them it was like a track meet. Many times not even in the half court, we were more conscious of that.
"You can't dribble penetrate and then turn the ball over. The turnovers were one of the things that killed us — the other was rebounding. We're just not a big team — that was rather obvious. I thought Cal did a great job of attacking and finding the open people."
Stringer's team gets back into action Thursday, when the Knights head home to battle intrastate foe Princeton in their first game at the Louis Brown Athletic Center.
While the Tigers don't offer the same level of competition as Cal or Stanford, the Knights still have a lot of work to do.
"We were just trying to help too much," Stringer said. "We don't have a superstar on the team. We are a collective group of players that are concerned and worried about how we represent winning and losing. We need to remember that and try and win and lose together."
— Adam Helfgott of WRSU contributed to this report