RU gets further chance to gel
Rutgers head women’s basketball coach C. Vivian Stringer has collected a roster full of several McDonalds All-Americans.
Despite all the Scarlet Knights who were once some of the nation’s standout high school basketball players, they have not performed to that elite level this season.
Most are young, but the seniors have little excuse.
For one game — Wednesday at Marquette — senior forward Monique Oliver broke out of her slump for 23 points and 10 rebounds.
“That’s what we’re used to seeing,” Stringer told The Star-Ledger postgame. “That’s why it’s been a strain all year — her and [senior forward] Chelsey Lee. If they can, either one can, return to what they were [in the past], then I think we’ll be a lot more comfortable around here.”
Whether Oliver is back to her old self — she has been fighting her way back from an Achilles’ injury — will be decided tomorrow against Villanova (16-4, 5-2) at the Louis Brown Athletic Center.
Oliver became the offensive force she was when she led the Knights (12-8, 3-4) in scoring before dipping below senior guard Erica Wheeler’s average.
Wheeler averages 10.5 points per game and .346 shooting from the field. Rutgers needs more from the Miami native, who is one of the team’s sharpest shooters at her best.
Oliver has shot a much more efficient .545 from the field, but health has hindered her minutes and ability to take offensive initiative.
“Today I definitely gained a lot more confidence,” Oliver told The Star-Ledger on Wednesday. “My coach was telling me to calm down and just be patient, and that’s what I did.”
Now Lee and Wheeler have to fix their weaknesses of foul trouble and spotty shooting, respectively.
With the current group of seniors, Rutgers is fighting for its 11th straight NCAA Tournament selection. Charlie Creme’s most recent bracketology Jan. 21 excludes the Knights.
Without those seniors, Rutgers would not have a chance.
The underclassmen have the rest of this season to establish themselves, which has been a gradual process.
Sophomore wing Betnijah Laney and sophomore point guard Shakena Richardson are leaders of that process.
Laney scored 15 points and recorded a block and a steal against Marquette, while Richardson scored seven points.
After an overall solid team performance against the Golden Eagles, Rutgers’ matchup with the Wildcats serves as a chance for the Knights to prove they can do that repeatedly.
Even though the Knights have won consistently at the RAC this year with a 9-1 record, the building will hold an opponent tougher than Marquette.
Villanova has beaten tough Big East teams this season, with a 20-point victory Jan. 9 against DePaul and beating Syracuse on Saturday.
The best team Rutgers has beaten in conference play is Georgetown, which is also playing through a down season.
Villanova is Rutgers’ first chance to make this season more than that.
“We recognize that the moment of truth is upon us,” Stringer said. “We don’t really have a choice but to get our backs straight and go ahead come out fighting. We don’t have anything to lose.”
For updates on the Rutgers women’s basketball team, follow Josh Bakan on Twitter @JBakanTargum.