Rutgers hits groove at critical time
As the temperatures across the New Brunswick and Piscataway areas continue to drop, there is one place where things are heating up at the perfect time.
In its home court at the Louis Brown Athletic Center, the Rutgers women's basketball team has been playing some of its strongest basketball in recent weeks.
Winners in 10 of their last 12 games, with the lone two losses both at the hands of No. 5 Maryland, the Scarlet Knights are in prime position to make a run in the upcoming postseason tournaments.
Ask anyone on the team and they will accredit the work that goes on behind the scenes.
Effective practices, team chemistry and relying on each other have been the keys to success for the Knights, who have reached 20 wins for the 15th time in 20 seasons under head coach C. Vivian Stringer.
“Just knowing we can count on every single person on the bench and on the floor we don’t have any downers — everyone has energy, everyone just loves to be a part of it," said senior wing Betnijah Laney. "It’s really key for us going into these games where it’s going to be us against everyone else."
In their last game against Illinois, eight Knights scored in the contest and the team combined for 18 assists.
Rutgers ranks sixth in the Big Ten with 16.4 assists per game. Its 70.4 points per game is the highest scoring average of any team since Stringer became the head coach.
But like any team coached by Stringer, defense always comes first.
This group of Knights are no different, ranking first in the Big Ten in field goal percentage defense at 36 percent. To go with that, their 59.6 points allowed per game ranks second behind Nebraska.
“We tried to be much more focused with getting the ball to the inside," Stringer said. "We wanted to make sure we moved the ball, and I thought the team has been doing a great job of that, and the other is that we wanted the ’55’ to be something that we can count on and we are consistent with."
The chemistry of the team is imperative to a collective defensive effort that the Knights roll out each game, and the work they have been exerting in practice has been evident during games.
Stringer spoke last week about how she has been changing the normal practice routines in efforts to get more out of her players.
Rutgers has been going starter-versus-starter to raise the competitive level of each practice, relying less on practice squad players and more on those who play impactful minutes on the court.
The results have been evident in every game since the switch, with more role players getting involved and starters playing to their strengths and more efficiently.
“I think it’s how we have been practicing,” junior wing Kahleah Copper said postgame last week. “We’ve been really competing against each other and it really converted. We came out and we were just competitive. We didn’t want them to get the ball, and we were just having flashbacks from practice and those situations, so I think that competitiveness starts in practice and we have to always do that because it shows in games.”
All the positives the Knights have been riding lately will be pivotal once the conference tournament concludes, and it is time to seed the NCAA tournament bracket. Every win is important now, and every minute played by starters and reserves will give the coaching staff a clearer picture of how to form and execute lineups for the postseason.
“Each and every position is proving themselves to be legitimate, and what we hope to do in the next three games is to hope to compliment each other and to recognize all the things it’s going to take to win at the highest levels,” Stringer said.
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