Rutgers outlasts streaky guard’s outing
Rutgers head women’s basketball coach C. Vivian Stringer signed four players last offseason who were taller than 6 feet.
But the most substantial size difference for Davidson to almost pull an upset against the Scarlet Knights yesterday at the Louis Brown Athletic Center was Wildcats guard Laura Murray’s 5-foot-9 frame.
Only freshman guards Precious Person and Kahleah Copper are taller than her in Rutgers’ backcourt.
“We knew that she could shoot, but it’s like this with shooters,” Stringer said. “That’s the reason why you stay on them in the first place, because if you let a shooter remember that she shoots, guess what? She’s going to shoot and shoot and shoot.”
It affected senior guard Erica Wheeler, who primarily guarded Murray in the zone play despite her 2-inch disadvantage.
That did not stop Wheeler from coming up big in the Knights’ 55-49 victory.
The Miami native drained a layup to put Davidson (1-3) down, 52-49, after stealing an inbounds pass with two minutes left.
“We were just trying to stretch it out with our 55 [press], and I think that we executed it well, that we guarded their press breaker well, and that’s what led us to the steals,” Wheeler said.
Murray responded on the other end. After shooting 6-for-10 from 3-point land in the game, a wide-open Murray suffered one of her four misses.
The Wildcats were strong in the post and the backcourt, which enhanced sophomore Betnijah Laney’s importance at wing.
Laney displayed some confusion when she mistakenly set up in the wrong place for an inbound on a three-second violation, but she later played like the highly-touted player that Stringer wanted.
That included two 3-pointers in her 15-point performance, which drew some defenders off senior center Monique Oliver in the paint.
“After I hit the first one in the second half,” Laney said of when she became more confident. “[The shots were] going around the rim and it wouldn’t go in. I hit the first one and then the next one, and as I kept shooting, my confidence came up.”
Davidson’s difficulty in feeding the post was no problem, as Murray exploited Rutgers’ zone defense herself.
When Rutgers shifted momentum in its favor, Murray was easy to spot on a play that ended it.
The Harrisburg, Pa., native sparked a 5-0 Davison run with eight minutes left that brought the score to 47-41 following her sixth 3-pointer of the game.
Only the 6-foot-1 Person successfully guarded Murray in the game, but Davidson found an answer for Rutgers’ unlikely source of backcourt production.
Forward Sophia Aleksandravicius completed the run on a lay-in on a fastbreak when Davidson caught Rutgers sleeping in transition.
“I think the biggest thing was that we went down so fast that it didn’t give people like Precious and Kahleah a chance to play without being under a great deal of pressure. That’s a tough situation to be in,” Stringer said. “As soon as they make one or two mistakes, I have to take them out because that team is smart enough that they’re going to attack them several more times.”
Rutgers entered the season with its frontcourt as its biggest asset, but it looked different against Davidson.
The Knights escaped with a victory through improved wing play and timely backcourt production, but Stringer and her staff know more needs to carry through.
“They’re doing these certain things. It’s like, wake up,” Stringer said. “Then in some cases, they don’t wake up soon enough. … Like [assistant] coach [Tasha] Pointer said, it was almost like this is a prelude to Big East. Wake up. You’re in another level. This is another league.”
For updates on the Rutgers women’s basketball team, follow Josh Bakan on Twitter @JBakanTargum.