Defense stymies guard, Hoyas
Between senior forward Chelsey Lee recovering from 2011 shoulder surgery, senior forward Monique Oliver’s Achilles’ injury earlier this season and sophomore guard Briyona Canty’s knee surgery, injuries have been contagious on the Rutgers women’s basketball team.
Senior guard Erica Wheeler caught the bug in the first half last night with a right ankle injury, hobbling the next two times she entered the game in the Scarlet Knights’ 55-47 win against Georgetown.
That meant few drives, few leads in transition and absolutely no diving for a typically energetic Wheeler. But that was better for Rutgers than Wheeler not returning at all.
“My tolerance for pain is really low,” Wheeler said, “so once I know the pain, I’ll be fine.”
It also meant adding to the list of games this season in which Rutgers (11-7, 2-3) has failed to score 60 points, the 12th of 18.
This was the second injury to a pivotal Knights guard in their last two matchups against the Hoyas.
When Khadijah Rushdan went down last year, it resulted in a concussion and a five-game Rutgers losing streak. The Knights proved they have the backcourt depth to prevent that and beat a quality Big East team, despite Georgetown’s (11-8, 2-4) similarly slow start in conference play.
“[Senior forward] Chelsey Lee had made a comment to [Georgetown head coach Keith Brown] last year when we lost an embarrassing loss at Georgetown that this would never happen again, and he reminded me of that this summer,” said head coach C. Vivian Stringer.
As long as Georgetown’s frontcourt kept Oliver and Lee to pedestrian performances and the Knights struggled from the outside, the Rutgers guards needed to get creative.
“In this game, you saw four guards. We’d really run four guards and one post. That’s an issue where we’re hurting more,” Stringer said of the frontcourt’s struggles.
Rutgers has yet to reach a turning point of offensive consistency, even if it can muster enough scoring for a quality conference victory.
It was enough to get Georgetown’s Sugar Rodgers in foul trouble and allow Rutgers better control of the game’s pace.
Freshman wing Kahleah Copper, whom Brown said he tried to recruit, took some of the scoring load off of Rutgers’ guards with a team-leading 12 points.
Her fast break layup with 7:06 to go extended the Knights’ close lead to 40-35, spurting an 8-1 Rutgers run.
Having struggled to score in the past, sophomore Syessence Davis provided the only second-half offense at point guard with four points.
The offense at point guard was a different story in the first half, as sophomore Shakena Richardson led Rutgers with seven points in the period.
The 5-foot-4-inch Richardson converted two consecutive floaters in traffic over taller defenders, the latter giving Rutgers its biggest lead of the first half at 24-16.
“Everybody else has to step up. We know [Wheeler is] a fighter, so we fight for her,” Richardson said. “That’s our senior. We have to go out there and do what we have to do until she got better, and you knew she was coming back.”
Freshman guard Precious Person took over for Wheeler for four of the seven minutes she was out, holding the Rodgers without a bucket.
The Knights held Rodgers to a season-low 13 points and 3-for-20 shooting. Rutgers’ defense has brought it far enough for key victories, but its offense needs to be fixed if it expects success in March.
“It stretches the bench,” Stringer said of how much she needed players to exert themselves on defense. “Everybody has to play, whether they can get done what we need to have get done or not, because Georgetown is an outstanding defensive team.”
For updates on the Rutgers women’s basketball team, follow Josh Bakan on Twitter @JBakanTargum.