July 22, 2018 | ° F

Colonials test inexperienced guards

Photo by Conor Alwell |

Senior guard Erica Wheeler is one of two upperclassmen in a young Rutgers backcourt. Wheeler led all Rutgers guards in the season opener Sunday against No. 10 Georgia with 12 points.

The Rutgers women’s basketball team was on the wrong end of a rare feat in Sunday’s season opener.

The Scarlet Knights out-rebounded No. 10 Georgia, 42-29, but they still lost, 57-51.

That context is easier to understand considering Rutgers turned the ball over 26 times.

“We definitely won’t have 26 turnovers in another game this year,” said senior guard Erica Wheeler. “We’ll prevent that any way. That really killed us down the stretch.”

Photo: Conor Alwell

Sophomore Briyona Canty started at point guard in Rutgers’ season opener. The Knights rotate three players at the point.

Wheeler committed a team-high six turnovers, and some of that comes from her extended ball-handling duties as Rutgers sorts out its point guard situation.

Sophomore Briyona Canty started at the point, but none of the Knights’ three point guards separated themselves from the pack.

Even though George Washington (1-0) is not a top-10 team, the Colonials’ backcourt is still experienced enough to give Rutgers’ young guards trouble tonight at the Louis Brown Athletic Center opener.

Seniors Danni Jackson, Megan Nipe and Shi-Heria Shipp and sophomore Chakecia Miller combine 14 years of experience and 46 points from their season opener.

The Colonials began the season strong with an 80-47 victory against UT-Arlington.

Rutgers (0-1) got a completely different result in its first game, partly because its three point guards combined for six turnovers and only five assists.

Wheeler thinks that performance was not a true representation of the position.

“It’s just the first game, so we have a long road,” Wheeler said. “They’re sophomores and they’re just learning. I’m the only upperclassman guard who has more experience, but I know they’ll get it. … That game doesn’t define whether the point guard is good for our team or not.”

In Wheeler’s first season as the only experienced Rutgers guard, her responsibility balloons.

Wheeler slumped in the first half of the season opener with two points off 1-for-6 shooting as she took more attempts from the field than any of her teammates.

For the Knights’ backcourt to take off, Wheeler wants to keep anything from getting to her head.

“My coaches at halftime were just telling me to calm down because I was frustrated a little bit. They put a lot of travel calls on me,” Wheeler said. “They just told me, ‘Keep being positive. Don’t stop playing.’”

When Wheeler took off, so did Rutgers.

The Parkway (Fla.) Academy product rebounded for 10 second-half points to end the game with a team-leading 12.

That spurred Rutgers to a 33-29 scoring advantage in the final period as the Knights outscored the nation’s No. 10 team for 20 minutes on its home court.

It was the least someone from the backcourt could do to supplement the post play.

“When we get rebounds like that, we also have to execute,” Wheeler said. “Out-rebounding a No. 10 team like that also put us in a good spot, but with 26 turnovers, that’s what really set us back. Our post is very important to our team.”

Sophomore forwards Christa Evans and Betnijah Laney led Rutgers with nine and seven boards, respectively, against Georgia.

Senior center Monique Oliver and senior forward Chelsey Lee did not even need strong rebounding games for the Knights to dominate on the boards, illustrating the frontcourt’s depth.

Rutgers needs its backcourt to catch up.

“We want [the backcourt] to do better than last game definitely, but I can’t really say because we’re not always going to have a good game,” Wheeler said of the inexperience. “We know what we have to do.”

For updates on the Rutgers women’s basketball team, follow Josh Bakan on Twitter @JBakanTargum.

By Josh Bakan

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