RU brings leaders, NIT title into Big Ten
Before concluding her press conference near the end of Rutgers women’s basketball Media Day, head coach C. Vivian Stringer had one last thing to say.
“We’re going to give you a show that you will not believe. I will promise you that,” she said at the podium.
The mood surrounding the Scarlet Knights as they prepare for the 2014-2015 campaign is beaming with optimism. After a 28-9 season where they ripped off six consecutive wins en route to a WNIT Championship, the focus shifts to building on it in their inaugural Big Ten season.
What was a relatively young team last year has now transitioned into a squad that is seasoned with veteran leadership. Out of the 14 players on the roster, 10 of them are upperclassmen.
One of those upperclassmen is junior wing Kahleah Copper. In a breakout sophomore season, Copper morphed into the role of a go-to scorer with averages of 16.1 points per game in addition to shooting 52.1 percent from the field after playing sparingly as a freshman.
As she continues to prepare for her third year at Rutgers, Copper has been trying to take her game even further to the next level.
“Working on being consistent,” Copper said regarding her main area of work in the offseason. “… I’ve been working on my consistent midrange, shooting the occasional three and really playing under control and making better decisions, so I think once I play controlled and consistently, I think I can be much better than I was last year.”
The WNIT’s Most Valuable Player said that while winning the consolation tournament last year was an accomplishment to feel good about, the ultimate goal is to get back the NCAA Tournament.
“I want us to get to the NCAAs. Period,” Copper said. “I think that’s a common goal of everyone on the team.”
The NCAA Tournament snub has evidently motivated and driven the Knights to leave no doubt in the selection committee.
With the additions of junior college transfer guards Cynthia Hernandez and Natalie Parsons, an offense that relied heavily on fast breaks and a quick transition game last season receives an added dimension of three-point shooting and spacing to open up opportunities in the paint.
From Stringer’s perspective, the post play has been the biggest improvement the team has made since last year.
“The posts have really improved a lot, and we needed that because it was an issue with them [last year],” Stringer said. “If we could’ve [gotten] 20 points and 15 rebounds [among] the three — Ariel [Butts], Rachel [Hollivay], as well as Christa [Evans] — … we easily would’ve been quite far down in the NCAAs. We needed that.”
For Stringer, the Big Ten conference is a place the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame coach is familiar with. From 1983-1995, she served as the head coach at Iowa, where she reached the NCAA Tournament nine times with one Final Four appearance.
Meanwhile, players like senior guard Syessence Davis enter the Big Ten with it being their third conference in three years.
Davis acknowledged the hype that has built up with the Big Ten debut looming. But according to the lockdown defender, it has yet to hit her that it is her final year in scarlet and white.
“I feel like when I come to my final games, that’s when it will hit,” she said. “But right now, I’m still a college student.”
Like many on the team who wanted more than just a WNIT Championship last year, Davis expressed her expectations for Rutgers to build on the momentum established late last year and make a statement to its Big Ten peers.
“[The] expectation is, firstly, [to] make the NCAA [Tournament],” she said, “and from there on, ride the wheels until they fall off.”
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