RU enters second straight RAC matchup
Only one game into the No. 16 Rutgers women’s basketball team’s season, the vibe around the program is already different.
Not only do the Scarlet Knights have depth, and an elite group of freshmen, but they also have their first 1-0 start since the 2008-09 season.
Head coach C. Vivian Stringer also gets to play on the East Coast to start the year, a stark contrast from the Knights’ previous two seasons.
Instead of playing at Stanford or California, the Knights welcome their second consecutive opponent to the Louis Brown Athletic Center tonight, when ACC foe Boston College arrives in Piscataway.
“It’s great for us,” Stringer said. “I can’t get over it. We have three games this week, but they’re here or in Philadelphia. That beats what has been going on to us.”
Some of what went on with the Knights in years past was a product of difficult scheduling. But nonetheless, slow starts were commonplace.
Still, that was before Stringer reaped the benefits of a guard-happy class, as she did in the Knights’ 73-70 victory against California.
Rutgers’ 55-press took precedence in the victory, as the Knights recorded 17 steals and forced the Golden Bears into 24 turnovers.
The depth even translated to scoring from more than only senior forward April Sykes or junior center Monique Oliver, although Oliver still tied for a game-high 18 points.
Sykes chipped in with 12 points, freshman wing Betnijah Laney dropped 18 and junior guard Erica Wheeler displayed her deadly 3-point shot with a 4-for-6 shooting clip.
“If you look, we had five players that played over 20 minutes. Usually you don’t see that,” said senior point guard Khadijah Rushdan, who recorded five points and six assists. “Usually we have a six- or seven-man rotation, so for us to have so much depth, it allows us to get into our 55. It allows us to play as hard as we want to.”
The depth has yet to appear in the Knights’ frontcourt, where freshman forward Christa Evans saw limited action in the season opener.
The void left a brunt of the rebounding burden on Oliver’s shoulders. She answered the call with nine boards and three blocks, even though Cal bested the Knights, 40-36, on the glass.
But that was against a more traditional post presence.
Boston College presents a Rutgers-like approach to the frontcourt, as the Golden Eagles sport a pair of 5-foot-11 forwards in sophomores Kristen Doherty and Korina Chapman.
Boston College’s biggest contributor in the post is 6-foot-3 sophomore center Katie Zenevitch, who shot only 20 percent from the field in the team’s season-opening win against Fairleigh Dickinson.
Oliver prepared for most of the competition this season featuring imposing frames in the post. An offseason emphasis on quickness should work in her favor against the Golden Eagles.
“A lot of the girls are much bigger than me, so I’m just trying to get around them to move my feet,” Oliver said.
The Knights also need to look out for sophomore guard Shayra Brown, who dropped 19 points and grabbed seven rebounds. Stringer’s rotation operated predominantly in a man-to-man look against Cal and will likely match up similarly against Boston College’s smaller, quicker lineup.
One thing is for sure after Game 1: The 55-press has to be more than ready for its second installment at the RAC.
“I don’t even think back from my freshman year that we 55’d the whole game,” Rushdan said. “We went at it all game [against Cal].”