Underclassmen contribute in loss
In its 65-45 loss to No. 3 Connecticut on Saturday, the Rutgers women’s basketball team’s younger players displayed their value and potential to a team that continues to develop talent.
In front of a crowd of nearly 5,400, the Scarlet Knights challenged the Huskies early on, and head coach C. Vivian Stringer liked what she saw.
“I am particularly encouraged because it was freshmen and sophomores,” Stringer said. “I am really proud of these two sitting here [sophomore guards Shakena Richardson and Syessence Davis] and the other freshmen.”
Stringer has allotted many minutes to the underclassmen and they have responded well to the responsibility. In Saturday’s showdown, freshmen and sophomores accounted for 72.5 percent of the playing time.
Richardson led the group with 10 points while Davis chipped in with eight points, six rebounds and three assists. The duo demonstrated its leadership on the floor by keeping Rutgers poised against one of the nation’s top teams.
“UConn is a great team,” Richardson said. “Whenever you can go out there and compete against them and only be down by six going into halftime, that is a positive thing. We just want to keep that mindset going forward.”
Richardson pushed the tempo in the opening minutes and facilitated the offense, getting everyone involved. Each player that saw action contributed in the scoring column.
Freshman wing Kahleah Copper and freshman forward Rachel Hollivay pleased the crowd with their hustle and intensity. They scored four and two points, respectively, diving on the floor and going after loose balls to preserve critical possessions in the process.
Although the Knights gave glimpses of their growth, their inexperience has been a downfall this season. Rutgers has struggled to close out games as it has now fallen to 14-10 overall and 5-6 in Big East play.
“I think anytime you are playing a lot of young players [it’s] going to be hard,” said Connecticut head coach Geno Auriemma after the game. “I remember last year they came up to our place and I think they started three or four freshmen. That is going to take a lot of growing pains.”
With the absence of senior forward Chelsey Lee because of injury, Rutgers needed to find production from its frontcourt to complement senior forward Monique Oliver’s play. Thanks to freshman forward Ariel Butts and sophomore center Christa Evans, Oliver did not have to carry the load alone.
The inside presence that Evans and Butts gave the Knights was huge as the lack of size was a disadvantage for the Knights.
“I thought Ariel Butts did a nice job on [center Stefanie Dolson],” Stringer said. “Christa Evans did a very effective job. We are encouraged. Our future is bright.”
Evans shot 2-for-3 from the floor and finished with four points in 17 minutes of action.
A few possessions later, she knocked down a 10-footer along the left baseline.
During halftime, Athletic Director Tim Pernetti spoke of the controversial comments Stringer made Feb. 8.
“Vivian and I had a good conversation about it, and that conversation is between Vivian and I,” he said.
Stringer voiced her displeasure with the thoughts of her critics in a heated exchange with the media, calling them “crazies.” She pinned the team’s troubles this season on youth, injury and lack of talent.
Stringer also challenged Pernetti to “step up” and address her expiring contract, which runs through June 2014.
“I’m not going to get into that,” Pernetti said. “I had discussions with Vivian about the interview, and they were good, productive discussions.”
For updates on the Rutgers women’s basketball team, follow Aaron Farrar on Twitter @AFarrarTargum.