Oliver's career night sparks first conference victory
Height was supposed to be the Rutgers women's basketball team's Achilles' heel heading into this season.
Sophomore Monique Oliver proved otherwise last night.
The 6-foot-2 forward played the biggest game of her career to give the Scarlet Knights a dominating 70-53 win over No. 11 Georgetown, continuing Rutgers' dominance against its Big East rival.
"We needed a quality win and this group in particular hasn't had a chance to claim something as their own," said head coach C. Vivian Stringer, whose team improved to 4-0 at home with the win. "I think they can say, ‘You know what? We defended the floor.'"
Oliver put the Knights on her back from start to finish for the team's first conference win, converting a career-high 21 points and 17 rebounds en route to her first double-double since arriving on the Banks.
The Las Vegas native got the line with 1:02 remaining in regulation to make her 14th and 15th free throws of the game, as the forward went to the charity stripe 21 times against the Hoyas.
Oliver made just three shots from the field the entire game, but showed she could be the go-to scorer in the paint for Stringer.
"It felt great," Oliver said. "I really just wanted to win the game and stay aggressive."
While Oliver carried her team, Georgetown's Sugar Rogers did all she could for the Hoyas.
The sophomore guard scored 19 points on 6-of-12 shooting, but too much Rutgers offense doomed Georgetown in the end.
Junior forward April Sykes dropped 17 points on the Hoyas, while junior guard Khadijah Rushdan was a close third with 14 points.
The Wilmington, Del., native also recorded 15 free throw attempts in the contest and did most of her work from the charity stripe.
"I think we're a lot more far ahead than we were last year," Rushdan said of the team. "With us clicking so well at the beginning of the year, obviously we're going to continue to work hard and continue to improve ourselves, but it's great to know we have this kind of chemistry this early in the year."
With the trio on the floor at the start of the second half, the Knights smelt blood in the water. From the 17-minute mark to 12:39, Rutgers went on a scoring tear, notching 21 points to just six for the Hoyas to give the squad a 52- 38 lead — its largest of the game.
After a cold first half, Sykes came out and knocked down three big 3-pointers, scoring nine of her 14 points to separate the Knights from the opposition.
Rushdan kept the pressure on Georgetown in the paint, getting to the line three times and getting the Hoyas' bigs in foul trouble.
But like she did to start the contest, Oliver was a force to be reckoned with down low and snagged board after board to give Rutgers its highest rebounding total of the season, besting the Hoyas, 45-27.
"Really coach Stringer just said ‘be aggressive,'" Oliver said. "Every time I went up to get a rebound I knew it was mine."
The Knights and Hoyas began the game on opposite ends of the thermostat, with Georgetown lighting up the floor in the game's first seven minutes. But Stringer's squad bounced back nicely to close the half, going on a 12-0 run to enter the locker rooms tied up at 28.
Oliver got to the line six times, going 8-for-11 to bolster the team's overall total from the charity stripe to 13-for-16 — the most free throws and attempts the Knights converted in one half this season.
But perhaps Oliver's biggest contribution came on the glass, where five of her rebounds came on the offensive boards, keeping plays alive to help Rutgers to nine second-chance points.
It is no secret the defense still needs work, but the 55-press came through for Stringer and Co. on countless occasions during the contest to help shut down the Hoyas after they started the game making eight of their first nine field goals.
Stringer can check one big game off the list of a slew approaching for the Knights, but at this point in the season, there is no time to be satisfied.
"We're still not there defensively, but I appreciate the effort because it was a full game 55," Stringer said. "We'll work on a lot of things, we'll work on a lot of different presses and that, but I think we have to be pretty confident. We have a big game [Sunday], so we can only celebrate tonight."