Ball security keys fast turnaround for Rutgers
To Kahleah Copper, it was simple.
The junior wing has been around C. Vivian Stringer long enough to know what the 20-year head coach demands from her players.
Catch the Rutgers women’s basketball team in action, and it’s obvious. The up-tempo offensive pace and in-your-face defense are two prime fundamentals that have merited a steady top-25 ranking for the No. 25 Scarlet Knights this season.
But when one of those fundamentals were out of sync last Thursday night at the RAC, it cost Rutgers an opportunity to seize its first win against an elite top-20 team in a 71-59 loss to No. 8 Maryland.
Stringer was livid — and Copper knew why.
“They did what they needed to do, and we didn’t,” Stringer said after the loss to Maryland. “We’re going to be better because we’ve got to be better, but we just didn’t do what we needed to do.”
One of the points Stringer alluded to was the whopping 19 turnovers her team committed.
“She really told us about the turnovers and how we beat ourselves with them,” Copper said. “Coach Stringer just emphasized not turning the ball over so much because we just end up beating ourselves. When we turn it over, the other team ends up scoring on us, so that was really major for us.”
That emphasis must have clicked.
The Knights (13-5, 4-3) cleaned up their game and took care of the ball in their first action following the loss to the Terrapins with a 73-63 Big Ten road win at Wisconsin.
In the bounce back win, Rutgers turned the tables this time around by forcing turnovers instead of committing them. The Badgers (7-10, 3-4) turned the ball over 16 times on Sunday, as the Knights tallied 12 steals.
And they cashed in on those.
Rutgers netted 18 points on turnovers and got back to its run-and-gun style out on the open floor, burying Wisconsin with 15 fast break points.
That opened up opportunities for Copper to get to the rim for high-percentage shots. In the process, she surpassed 1,000 career points.
As the likes of Copper were able to attack the basket, it awakened a perimeter game that has been dormant for some time.
Junior guard Cynthia Hernandez dropped a game-high 17 points, shooting five of six from three-point land to inject some life and energy for the Knights when they needed it most while adding a critical element to their offense.
In order to help propel the Knights back into the discussion with the likes of the elite, Hernandez looked no further than the fundamental element of winning the turnover battle.
“I think we just need to realize that we’re hurting ourselves [with the turnovers],” Hernandez said. “It’s not that we can’t beat anybody — it’s just that we need to limit our turnovers, play defense and shoot the ball.”