Youth shows signs of grasping system
From the start of the season, head coach C. Vivian Stringer has been preaching her philosophy to the Rutgers women’s basketball team of holding upperclassmen accountable for the progress of the younger teammates.
After consecutive victories led by more inexperienced Scarlet Knights, it is likely they are starting to latch onto lessons from the team’s seniors.
“What we were pleased about was that there was a lot of young people — freshmen, sophomores and one senior that were out there when the game counted,” Stringer said after Saturday’s win against Villanova. “The future looks bright, and it is good for us to begin to put it together. There is no time like the present.”
In a tightly contested matchup, younger Knights stepped up and made big plays at crucial moments to give Rutgers the victory.
Sophomore wing Betnijah Laney and sophomore point guard Shakena Richardson led the offensive charge, and Stringer kept the ball in their hands down the stretch.
In perhaps her best point guard display of the season, Richardson looked confident and earned trust with the ball in the closing minutes. She did not disappoint.
“From seeing the game at the two-guard perspective, you gain a lot of perspective on the point guard,” Richardson said Saturday. “I am more comfortable with the system and making plays.”
The Neptune, N.J., native recorded a career-high 14 points, seven rebounds and seven assists to help the Knights improve to .500 in the Big East. She was aggressive and broke down Villanova’s defense to get to the free throw line.
Richardson made one of two free throws with seconds remaining in regulation to send the game into overtime. Rutgers turned up its intensity in the extra minutes to extend its lead.
“We really wanted this win, and something from deep down pushed me through,” Richardson said.
Laney was Richardson’s safety valve. The duo’s chemistry was obvious in the come-from-behind win.
“That is something we focus on in practice,” Laney said Saturday. “[We talked about] everybody being able to play off of each other and with each other. That is what we did.”
Laney was an offensive threat the entire way and showed off her versatility. She made Villanova pay if it left her open by draining uncontested shots within 10 feet of the basket.
When the Wildcats put pressure on her from the outside, Laney backed her way into the post until she saw quality looks.
“I was just really trying to focus on doing what we had to do to make sure we won, [which was] just executing plays,” she said.
Laney finished with 12 points, including eight in overtime, for her 10th double-figure game of the season.
The Knights’ growth was evident in their last two performances, but they do not want to give into complacency. Rutgers needed players to take the responsibility for providing necessary plays.
When the flow of the game appeared stagnant on Saturday, Laney and Richardson pushed the flow. The ball found its way around the perimeter, and the duo involved its teammates.
Stringer was finally pleased to see the positive results of making smart decisions.
For updates on the women’s basketball team, follow Aaron Farrar on Twitter @AFarrarTargum.