New starting lineup lands Stringer historic victory
There were two things that stood out in the Rutgers women’s basketball team’s 68-56 victory last night against South Florida besides the obvious milestone.
The first one came before the opening tip.
Head coach C. Vivian Stringer went with a different starting lineup than usual, starting sophomore forward Christa Evans and freshman forward Rachel Hollivay for ailing senior forward Monique Oliver and sophomore guard Shakena Richardson.
Though Stringer might have been happy with the production from the forward duo — both combined for 14 points and 15 rebounds in the contest — the change might have had the most effect on adding pressure on the minds of the starters who remained.
The evidence can be seen in the play of senior guard Erica Wheeler and sophomore forward Betnijah Laney.
After shooting just 13 percent from behind the arc during the Knights’ four-game losing streak, Wheeler responded with a 6-for-11 effort against the Bulls from long distance.
Half of those came in the second half, with the guard’s last trey coming from the corner in front of the Knights’ bench with 3:58 left. Wheeler finished with 24 points on 8-of-14 shooting.
For the performance to come on such a night as this, it left Wheeler proud of her efforts.
“I felt that since I was fired up, my team fed off of me and they also helped me out,” Wheeler said. “That’s one thing coach told us is to never give up.”
The Bulls could not corral Wheeler in the first half, converting three of her four 3-point attempts. The Miami native went into the locker room with 13 points.
Laney complemented Wheeler’s performance with 20 points, with 10 coming in the second half down the closing stretches against the Bulls.
The outing almost doubled her 9.2 points per game average this season, as she and Wheeler combined for almost two thirds of the Knights’ points.
“We’ve been talking about what we need to do to execute and everything, and that’s been our main focus in these last couple of practices, and it just showed up in the game,” Laney said.
The Knights kept South Florida’s high-scoring guards Andrea and Andrell Smith in check, as the twins combined for just 18 points in the contest.
The effort can go a long way for the Knights’ chances at their 11th consecutive NCAA Tournament berth.
“I haven’t really gotten over that,” Stringer said of the bubble talk. “I’m just excited of the 900th [win]. Everything will take care of itself. This was a major win, and as you know, it is important to win impressively down the road.”
Andrea Smith, the Bulls’ leading scorer at 17 points per game, only dropped 11 in the contest, with six of those points coming on connections with the game well in hand for Rutgers.
Andrell Smith’s seven points were only half of the 14.1 points per game she has averaged this season.
Credit can go to the Knights’ defense on the twins in the first half.
Besides fast break points, Rutgers forced both to pass the ball to other teammates, as they were unable to create for themselves.
The first half defense resulted in a 35-24 lead at halftime for Rutgers, which they did not relinquish.
For a coach who was going for an accomplishment only three others have accomplished in women’s college basketball in the past, the fan support surely did not warrant the occasion.
The announced attendance at the Louis Brown Athletic Center last night was 1,304, a far cry from the 5,378 that attended the Knights 65-45 home loss Feb. 16 against Connecticut.
A part of that could be attested to the Knights’ four-game losing streak before the win. Another reason could have been the day of the week.