June 23, 2018 | ° F

RU experiments with youth, defense

Photo by Nelson Morales |

Freshman guard Precious Person defends Davidson guard Laura Murray, who scored 24 points Sunday against Rutgers. Person’s height makes her an important part of the Knights’ perimeter defense.

The Rutgers women’s basketball team gets its second crack at beating a team from last year’s NCAA Tournament tonight at Princeton.

The Ivy League team came close to beating a major-conference opponent in the first round in a 67-64 loss to Kansas State.

It was a better result than the Scarlet Knights’ 86-73 loss to Gonzaga in the same round, so Rutgers (3-1) is quite vulnerable to another loss against a tournament team.

The Tigers (3-2) are the favorite to win their conference, according to its preseason poll. So was Davidson in the Southern Conference, who almost gave the Knights more than they could handle Sunday in Rutgers’ 55-49 win, where the Knights had to come back from a 29-20 deficit.

Photo: Nelson Morales

Senior Monique Oliver made a conscious effort Sunday to earn post position against Davidson and get to the free-throw line.

“I heard quite a few things as we were leaving the floor from the younger players like, ‘OK, I know I have to play better defense because I have to get in there and help and make a difference,’” said head coach C. Vivian Stringer post-game, “and we’re happy about that.”

Freshman guards Precious Person and Kahleah Copper were arguably the most important rookie defenders as their 6-foot-1 frames helped them contain guard Laura Murray.

But Person and Copper played only seven and four minutes, respectively, as Stringer did not want to pressure her freshmen too much.

“As I told all the freshmen, they’re going to be very, very good soon, but this is not the time right now,” Stringer said. “So the best thing that we can do is to learn from that.”

Stringer has the rest of nonconference play to tinker with how much responsibility to give 2012’s third-ranked freshman class.

Murray entered the game as a solid shooter, but not see the ball as much, averaging 12 points per game this year after her 24-point performance.

Princeton guard Niveen Rasheed brings a more versatile skillset than just scoring.

The 6-footer, who averages 14.6 points per game, also averages a team-leading 9.6 rebounds and 2.6 steals per contest.

The Knights can also generate steals with Stringer’s 55 press, which was functional when used late against Davidson. It even resulted in a clutch steal for senior guard Erica Wheeler.

After Rutgers’ defense was shaky beforehand, even a Hall of Fame head coach has to question when to implement her trademark defense.

“We’re going to lose going out [too] hard and relying on peoples’ instincts to kick in,” Stringer said. “Maybe I should have gone into that 55 a little bit earlier, but I can tell you this — I figure that [Davidson] also had time to work on it.”

It is partially the backcourt’s responsibility to draw defenders off of senior center Monique Oliver.

The team’s ineffective shooting and senior forward Chelsey Lee’s down game allowed the Wildcats to crowd Oliver to force her to the line in the first half.

“I really just tried to attack whoever was inside, basically trying to either score or [draw] the foul, and I got the fouls,” Oliver said.

Part of that had to do with sophomore wing Betnijah Laney’s shot heating up, including two field goals from 3-point land.

Rutgers entered the season with what Stringer called her biggest team ever.

But against opponents like Princeton, the Knights’ composure needs to catch up with their size.

That happened with Laney.

“I just relaxed, calmed myself down and took better shots,” Laney said.

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

By Josh Bakan

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