Slow return affects Knights on boards
Perhaps senior forward Chelsey Lee is not completely healthy, or maybe Rutgers head women’s basketball coach C. Vivian Stringer’s constant lineup tinkering has negatively affected Lee’s play.
But she has yet to recapture her effectiveness since returning this year from shoulder surgery.
Lee led the Scarlet Knights in rebounding with 7.5 per game in the 2010-2011 campaign. She has only averaged 3.8 per game so far this year.
The Parkway (Fla.) Academy product has come off the bench in the last three games, even when Rutgers has struggled on the boards.
The Knights struggled the most in Thursday’s 71-55 loss at Princeton, when the Tigers out-rebounded Rutgers, 43-26. Fourteen of Princeton’s rebounds came on offense.
Lee chipped in six boards, one of her best rebounding performances of the season.
But she only played 28 minutes.
Even though Stringer likes to utilize most of her bench in each regular-season game, 28 minutes in a match is relatively low for one of her veterans. Lee’s minute total is especially low in a game in which Rutgers struggled on the boards.
Perhaps Stringer does not want to overwork Lee, since she still has only played six games since returning from redshirting.
Lee said before the season she felt completely healthy, but she also has not been very quick on her cuts, which is vital at power forward.
Lee has played 23.5 minutes per game this season, the fourth-best average on the team.
The Miami native has also seen a reduced workload when Stringer experiments with lineups. Nine Knights have started at least one game this season.
Sophomore forward Christa Evans started the first of those games, and Lee did not. Sophomore wing Betnijah Laney started the last two as Stringer began each game with a three-guard lineup.
Fortunately for Rutgers, players from other positions have picked up the rebounding load.
Senior forward Monique Oliver leads the effort with six boards per game, and Laney follows with 4.3 per game.
Freshman forward Kahleah Copper ties Lee with 3.8 boards per game, while Evans is slightly behind with 3.7.
But the Knights hold only a plus-2.3 rebounding margin against their opponents, and that will only be harder to maintain against most Big East foes.
Rutgers entered the season with rebounding as a strength in what Stringer claims is the tallest team in Knights history.
Now the Knights need a greater output from Lee and Oliver.
Oliver has received fewer minutes since sitting out Nov. 21 at Temple because of an Achilles’ injury.
Every Rutgers opponent this season entered its matchup against the Knights with a winning record besides No. 6 Georgia, which had yet to play a game.
The Knights break that trend tomorrow against LIU Brooklyn (2-3).
But Rutgers will not receive a break against a tough rebounder. Wing Cleandra Roberts averages 9.7 boards per game.
If the Blackbirds prove tough for Rutgers on the boards, Big East play will be all the more difficult for the Knights.
For updates on the Rutgers women’s basketball team, follow Josh Bakan on Twitter @JBakanTargum.