Senior finds other ways to contribute for Rutgers
Kahleah Copper posted arguably her best performance of the season Saturday, and it wasn't because she poured in 30 points and pulled down 10 rebounds like the show she put on to open the season at St. Joseph's in her homecoming to Philadelphia.
The senior wing didn't knock down a buzzer-beater to win the game over Nebraska either. The Rutgers women's basketball team had the game in hand with three minutes left on the clock, ultimately running away with a 66-56 win.
Instead, Copper scored 7 points, grabbed seven boards and five steals, giving up her own opportunities to score to the likes of senior center Rachel Hollivay and sophomore guard Shrita Parker.
“I only took six shots so I think that once the offense wasn't going, I got seven rebounds and I got a couple steals and I got a couple stops,” Copper said. “So you just gotta keep going and have a plan B.”
Plan B worked to perfection.
Parker scored a career-high 14 points off the bench and Hollivay scored 12 points to go with seven rebounds and five blocks.
Senior guard Briyona Canty chipped in 11 points, seven boards and dished seven assists to further balance the Scarlet Knights (13-9, 4-6) scoring in a game where Rutgers trailed by 12 after the first quarter.
Copper saw the offensive output from Parker in particular as a positive sign of both the sophomore’s personal progression and that of the team.
“I think there's a lot more to come from (Parker),” Copper said. “She can be the X-factor all the time.”
But it may have been the 6-foot-1 senior’s willingness to sacrifice her own shots in order to pass the opportunity to a teammate that turned the tide.
Head coach C. Vivian Stringer was pleased with the performance and the result her team received in avenging a loss to the Cornhuskers two weeks prior, but she still expects Copper and leading scorer, junior guard Tyler Scaife, to continue to produce night-in and night-out.
“Tyler and Kah were averaging 18, 20 points per game for the first eight, nine, 10 games. So what we were looking for was someone to compliment them,” Stringer said after the 10-point win. “Bri (Canty) is stepping up to become a lot more in terms of an offensive threat. Kah and Tyler need to show up.”
Canty’s ability to facilitate has elevated her team’s play and that is evident when she is not on the floor. She handles the ball on offense better than any other guard on the roster.
The Willingboro, New Jersey, native pointed to Hollivay’s production offensively as a key factor in snapping the four-game losing skid at home against Nebraska.
“I mean Rachel (Hollivay), she can do it, she can score,” Canty said. “You just gotta keep pushing and telling her like ‘You good. You got it.’ And I think that's basically what I kept telling her.”
The constant prodding paid dividends.
Hollivay had one of her best all-around showings of the season, keeping the Knights in the game in the first half with eight points and locking down on her mark defensively.
Forward Jessica Shepard torched the Knights for 23 points the first time the two schools met back on Jan. 15.
Shepard is a candidate for Freshman of the Year nationally and can play at a level well beyond her years.
Shepard scored 23 again, but she had to work for it thanks to Hollivay, whose five blocked shots move her within four of the school record of 293, set by program legend Sue Wicks.
“I think she's a really good player on both ends of the floor just ‘cause she has the post presence on the offensive end where you have to guard her,” Shepard said of Hollivay. “And defensively, she moves her feet really well.”
Copper’s unselfishness has lent to building Hollivay confidence on offense. And Rutgers will need its senior center to score down the stretch if they want to remain in the hunt for an NCAA Tournament selection.
Copper made it clear during the postgame press conference Jan. 30 that despite her 16.1 points per game (2nd to Scaife) and her team leading 8.1 rebounds per contest, she is no one thing on a basketball court.
“I'm not just on the floor to score. I have to be able to make people better,” she said. “I have to get rebounds, I have to play defense, so I think that's going to be key, key for me because like Coach Stringer said at the beginning of the year, if I wanna be a professional I have to own two things and I think I'm just trying to focus on trying to do that and also trying to make people better around me.”