Rutgers extends home winning streak with contribution from underclassmen
When Big Ten Conference play began for the Rutgers women's basketball team, the Scarlet Knights were looking for a pair of young guards to step in order to keep senior Briyona Canty fresh after recovering from a knee injury last season.
Senior Rachel Hollivay has proven she can add to Scaife and Copper’s combined 34 points per game, but the center dealing with a hand injury a void is left in both minutes and offensive production.
Sophomore Shrita Parker and freshman Khadaizha Sanders lifted their games Thursday to fill that void.
In the 61-41 win over Wisconsin, Parker contributed five points and five rebounds to go with an assist, including a pivotal 3-pointer in the third quarter to help salt the game away.
“Lately I haven’t really been hittin from the behind the arc, but I’ve really been working on it,” Sanders said after the Knights' (11-4, 2-1) 61-41 win over the Badgers (5-8, 1-2). “I'm just going to keep working on it to show what I can do.”
Sanders added two points, two rebounds and four assists in just her second start as a true freshman. Although head C. Vivian Stringer has noticed a slight drop off at the point position with senior Briyona Canty coming off the bench, she is confident that Sanders will continue to progress.
“(The slow start) really had to do with us not starting our normal point guard,” Stringer said. “KK (Sanders) is really doing a good job. She understands what's going on, but she is a freshman.”
Rutgers has proven a propensity to come on strong in the second half this far this season, especially on the Knights home floor.
Rutgers shot 1-for-9 to start the game Thursday night at the Rutgers Athletic Center before rallying to close the first half with a 25-22 lead over Wisconsin.
The second half was no contest as the Scarlet and White jumped out to an 11-0 run to start the third quarter, rallying to 36 points in the second half while holding the Badgers to only 19 points.
“We’re never satisfied,” said senior wing Kahleah Copper. “I think that we’re just gonna continue to come out and compete with every team in the Big Ten. We’re not going to be satisfied until we win a championship.”
In addition to the offensive production, Rutgers has proven stingy on the defensive end as well, limiting opponents to fewer than 35 percent shooting from the field through 15 games in 2015-2016.
Wisconsin managed only 28.8 percent for the game, including 5-for-25 from the field in the final two quarters (20 percent).
“We continue to make a steady improvement,” Stringer said. “I love it when they're able to think because there's nothing they need to do to get started. They are basketball players. They feel comfortable making those decisions.”
The win over the Badgers moved Rutgers to 2-1 in conference play, while extending the Knights' winning streak at the RAC to seven straight.
Rutgers’ lone loss came in its home opener, 69-62, against St. John’s back on Nov. 19. Since then, the Knights are unbeaten at home, outscoring opponents by a combined 137 points.
Junior guard Tyler Scaife pointed to the crowd’s energy as a catalyst for her team on the floor, and Stringer agreed.
But the all-time winningest head coach in school history still sees room for improvement.
“There's other things that we can do,” Stringer said. “The defense, we picked it up. We were much more aggressive in the second half (versus Wisconsin)and I'm not sure why.”