Knights feed forwards in blowout win
On countless trips down the floor of the Louis Brown Athletic Center on Friday night, Howard knew exactly where the Rutgers women’s basketball team was going with the ball.
And the Bison could do nothing to stop it.
Sophomore forward Rachel Hollivay imposed her 6-foot-4 frame through undersized double and triple teams to set career highs with 26 points, 13 rebounds and nine blocks.
Sophomore wing Kahleah Copper added 23 points, 13 boards, five assists and two steals as the Scarlet Knights (4-1) rolled to a 69-38 win.
“I told myself before the game that I needed to work hard for the team,” Hollivay said. “When I realized it in film that I had a big height advantage, I just went out there and did what I had to do.”
Coming off a bitter 1-point loss at Massachusetts not even 48 hours prior, Hollivay’s assertiveness set the tone. She rebounded in traffic, raced down the floor and demanded the ball.
Hollivay scored 10 of Rutgers’ first 20 points against Howard (2-3).
“What we’re trying to do is take what another team gives us,” said head coach C. Vivian Stringer. “We keep attacking until they stop us, and they weren’t stopping Rachel. It was good to see Rachel was really posting up hard and trying to do what we need her to do.”
Defensively, Hollivay kept Howard out of the lane, forcing the Bison to heave ill-advised jumpers and shoot only 25 percent from the field.
Her play established momentum, but Copper’s own brilliance helped the Knights finish strong.
The Philadelphia native, filling in at small forward for injured junior Betnijah Laney, stroked a consistent jumper, confidently drove the lane and attacked the glass.
She shot 56 percent — including a perfect 5-of-5 from the foul line — tallying 17 of the team’s 36 second-half points.
Copper, Rutgers’ leading scorer at 17.6 points per game this year, is also averaging more than twice as many rebounds as her rookie campaign with 7.4 per game.
“I’m a lot more confident this year. I’m a lot more comfortable with the things that are going on on the floor,” Copper said. “My teammates are keeping me up and being positive about everything. It’s really the team that’s keeping me up and keeping me going and confident with everything I’m doing.”
But Rutgers’ outing was not perfect.
The Knights shot a season-low 38 percent from the field, significantly cooling off after a 20-4 run to start the game. For more than five minutes, Rutgers missed seven shots and did not score.
Howard went on a 6-0 run to cut the lead to 20-10 with 7:13 left in the first half.
In an effort to deepen her rotation and mix and match, Stringer thinks some of her own lineup changes contributed to the struggles.
“Some of the combinations that I put in could have thrown us off,” Stringer said. “It wasn’t anybody’s fault as much as it probably was mine.”
Yet the Knights stayed the course, continuing to control tempo and generate turnovers. Howard never got any closer than within 8 points with about five minutes to go in the first half.
With 1:52 to play before halftime, Hollivay took on a foul from three defenders in the left lane, posted up to her right and converted at the line for a 3-point play. That pushed the lead back to double digits.
Rutgers came out running in the second half, collecting 15 points off turnovers and steadily pulling away.
“That’s our style,” Stringer said. “People have seen us play us, so they’re going to come at us with lots of different things — zones and all the other things. But we need to run, we need to press.”
For updates on the Rutgers women’s basketball team, follow Greg Johnson on Twitter @GregJohnsonRU. For general Rutgers sports updates, follow @TargumSports.