Rutgers hosts Duke on night it retires Cappie Pondexters' number
Fresh off its first win of the season, the Rutgers women’s basketball team faces a tough challenge ahead as Duke visits the Rutgers Athletic Center Thursday in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.
The Blue Devils (7-1) boast a strong record, but have only beaten a few of the mid-major teams and lost at the hands of SEC opponent Vanderbilt.
The Scarlet Knights (1-5) are coming off a 60-52 win over Bryant on Sunday, their first of the season.
Rutgers will have something extra to play for, as Knights legend Cappie Pondexter will be in the building for a ceremony to retire her jersey.
While at Rutgers, Pondexter averaged 18.3 points per game over her four year career and shot a clinical 42.6 percent from three-point range. She was the 2003 Big East Rookie of the year and was named the 2006 Big East Conference Women’s Basketball Player of the Year, averaging 21.6 points per game and shooting nearly 50 percent from deep.
Her stats and accolades don’t do her justice, as she was the centerpiece of the program in her four years as a Scarlet Knight. The season before she arrived, the team went 9-20. With Pondexter, they reached the NCAA Tournament four years in a row and averaged over 24 wins per year.
“I can’t think of anyone that’s more deserving than Cappie,” said head coach C. Vivian Stringer of her former player. “She's probably the most heralded basketball (player) to ever come out of Rutgers University”.
Current members of the team are certainly aware of Pondexter’s legacy. There may not be another player in the near future with the magnitude of Pondexter, but she is certainly the right one for the young players to model themselves after. In fact, sophomore guard Aliyah Jeune seeks to be just like her on the court.
“I met Cappie a couple times now. She’s just my idol," she said. She’s like a great player. She’s someone I look up to a lot."
As for the game, the Knights will face a tough challenge in the Blue Devils. They are led by head coach Joanne McCallie, who brought them to 4 consecutive ACC championships and 4 consecutive NCAA Elite Eight appearances in a four-year span.
Playing this season without their undisputed best player, Rutgers is still trying to find its identity on the court. Some players are doing things they are not used to and during games, Stringer is not shy about making substitutions as frequently as possible to get in a player’s ear about something they need to fix.
Junior forward Kandiss Barber is one of those players moving around, as she is transitioning into playing more of a power forward position this year. She played JUCO basketball at Southern Idaho and was more of a wing/combo guard player there, but she is taking these changes with stride and seems comfortable in what she is doing on the court.
“I was mainly playing the guard position at my junior college,” Barber said. “It wasn’t too much of a huge transition. I gradually began to play the four, but it’s nothing too serious”.
If the game against Bryant was any indication, the transition is going just fine, as she led the team with a career-high 14 points. She will need to continue her strong play if her team wants to stand a chance against Duke.
Stringer was glad after finally getting the first win of the season, but knows they need to consistently play at a high level. The fact that Pondexter’s ceremony will occur at a big nonconference match-up is fitting, but according to Stringer, it wouldn’t matter either way.
“I know she wouldn’t care who (we) were playing. She basically breathed fire and life into everybody. We need everybody to step up. Duke is a big-time game”.
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