Backups provide depth, accountability for ailing squad
Unplanned dilemmas and circumstances beyond its control have plagued the Rutgers women’s basketball team in what has been an unpredictable season.
The Scarlet Knights have been tested and contributions are necessary from every player who takes the floor. Freshman Kahleah Copper has received high praise for her performance of late when she sees time.
“She’s an incredible athlete,” said head coach C. Vivian Stringer on Tuesday. “She is very gifted. We just changed her position about two weeks ago, which she cannot thank me enough for. I am happy about the change, as well.”
Copper earned more of a frontcourt role instead of playing around the perimeter. The change has allowed the Knights to spread the floor and enables guards to become more offensive-minded.
“We saw things in practice where she would run the four so well, and the team seemed very confident,” Stringer said. “She does a great job of finishing. If you get her that shot, anything along the baseline, she can do that. She seemed so much more comfortable that we thought we would open our game up by allowing these guards to dribble penetrate more and get them the open shots and looks. Even though she’s thin she gets up and rebounds.”
Rutgers continues to find ways to press through difficult moments, and each player has to adjust to larger roles and more responsibilities.
During senior forward Monique Oliver’s brief absence as she nursed an ankle injury, the Knights saw valuable minutes from freshman forward Rachel Hollivay and sophomore forward Christa Evans.
The duo added depth in the paint and created mismatches for opponents. Its presence was also crucial for Rutgers in its 55-47 victory against Georgetown on Tuesday, when senior forward Chelsey Lee found herself in early foul trouble.
Things looked bleak for the Knights again when senior guard Erica Wheeler went down in the first half with a minor ankle injury. It was another instance that required other players to pick up responsibility.
“Everybody else has to step up and pick up the slack,” said sophomore guard Shakena Richardson.
Richardson says each Knight needs to be accountable and has to pick up intensity.
She led an offensive surge to close out the first half against the Hoyas, scoring seven points in the final three minutes to build a comfortable lead into halftime.
The backcourt has taken a blow, as sophomore guard Briyona Canty is sidelined for the remainder of the year because of a left knee injury. More guards have seen action and may get in games to help alleviate the load Wheeler has to carry.
The Knights have appeared to find consistency on both ends of the floor, something they have searched for of late.
For updates on the Rutgers women’s basketball team, follow Aaron Farrar on Twitter @AFarrarTargum.