Lee’s play shows signs of return
Right when Rutgers head women’s basketball coach C. Vivian Stringer was ready to reevaluate the team, the Scarlet Knights gave her a reason to hold on to some optimism.
Stringer preached several times for the Knights to “identify who they are” to play up to their expectations. After breakout performances from senior forward Chelsey Lee and sophomore guard Shakena Richardson at Madison Square Garden on Sunday, Rutgers may have revealed its true character.
“It’s just identifying what I do at first,” Lee said of improving. “I used to use rebounds as my way to get on the floor. … I think it’s just reconnecting with the things I did that got me back on the floor.”
After undergoing shoulder surgery that kept her out all of last season, the Miami native is progressively returning to pre-surgery form.
Lee’s best outing of the season came against Louisiana Tech when she dropped 11 points and grabbed six rebounds in 19 minutes on the floor.
She has been effective coming off the bench and relieved the burden classmate Monique Oliver had to bear in the paint. Lee’s presence and efficiency on the floor against the Lady Techsters led Oliver to believe Lee’s return to production.
“[Chelsey] is almost back to her old ways,” Oliver said. “It’s just going to take her a game at a time just to get back into her regular flow.”
Richardson helped Lee get back into her flow in the matinee.
The Neptune, N.J., native displayed her crafty and fast-paced style, collecting nine points and dishing out a career-high six assists.
At a guard position that still does not have a stable orchestrator, Richardson showed how she could command the offense and get teammates involved.
Stringer watched as the guard jolted down the court and either kicked the ball out to an open player or took the ball strong to the rim and finished.
“I just came out with a mindset just to do anything to help the team,” Richardson said. “Bring energy any way possible.”
Although the question of whether the team’s performance was a glimpse of the future or something fans should not get used to remains unanswered, there were plenty of reasons for Rutgers to keep its hopes alive.
The Knights kept a high pace throughout the game, confusing Louisiana Tech and getting easy baskets in transition. Richardson pushed the tempo and got the Knights to run, something Stringer encourages the team to do.
But Richardson is taking it in stride. She believes her opportunity will come and is not worried about starting or being a savior to the team.
“I don’t think [my play] was a statement,” she said. “I feel like we [have] good play at the guard positions.”
Richardson set Lee up for some nice shots, getting the ball to the forward’s hands in the perfect spot on the floor for her to be productive in the post. The unselfishness was contagious, as Lee even connected with Richardson on a few possessions.
“For [Shakena] to be the smallest one out there and for me to find her, that was great vision on my part,” Lee said jokingly.
Listed at 5-foot-4, Richardson did not have any trouble finding the Knights on the floor and creating scoring opportunities.
As Rutgers moves forward this season, it looks to build off the progress it has made.