Rutgers walks into daunting Maryland matchup behind strong backcourt
There won’t be a harder game on the schedule for the Rutgers women’s basketball team as it heads to College Park to take on No. 3 Maryland on Sunday afternoon. Tip-off is at 3 p.m. and the game will be broadcasted nationally on ESPN2.
The Terrapins are 18-1 and 6-0 in the Big Ten, with their only loss being a six-point defeat at the hands of No. 1 Univesity of Connecticut, arguably the best team in women’s college basketball history. Rutgers comes into the contest at 6-14 and 3-4 in Big Ten play.
While they are sure to be massive underdogs, the Scarlet Knights will have the advantage of time on their hands as they will have had four days to prepare while Maryland is coming off a game against Michigan on Thursday night.
But this is a road game and Rutgers has yet to win a game away from the Rutgers Athletic Center and was recently blown out by 8-11 Illinois on the road. A lot of things will have to change for the Knights if they want a chance to record one of the biggest upsets in school history.
For the second consecutive game, Rutgers will be tasked with defending against an elite center. Senior Brionna Jones of Maryland is averaging over 24 points and 12 rebounds per game in Big Ten play, as well as a clinical 71 percent shooting mark from the field.
The Knights have begun to rotate in freshman center Jordan Wallace along with sophomores Desiree Keeling and Victoria Harris in the frontcourt in order to keep up defensive energy.
On offense, everything the Knights do will run through sophomore point guard Khadaizha Sanders. In conference play, she is averaging just under 9 points per game, but orchestrates the offense with over five assists per game and might just be the defender on the team, as she averages over three steals per game.
All of these stats are improvements from non-conference play, as she has emerged as the true point guard on the roster while Shrita Parker has assumed the role of shooting guard.
“(I’m) just making progress, doing better, seeing the floor, trying to get the control of the game and just seeing my teammates and putting them in good positions,” Sanders said of her development. “It’s just a work in progress.”
Parker has proven to be the most dangerous offensive player for the Knights and is averaging 16 points per game in Big Ten play.
Early in the season, Parker was playing as more of a point guard, but is now firmly in the role of a scorer. Head coach C. Vivian Stringer has reiterated that is Parker’s job to score points, although Parker has said that her game has not necessarily changed.
“Honestly, it’s not really different,” Parker said. "It’s just attacking the basket and trying to get to the free throw line.”
She is also shooting a very strong 42.3 percent from three-point range. In fact, for as poorly as they were shooting the ball in non-conference play, the Knights have three players — Parker, sophomore forward Aliyah Jeune and junior forward Kandiss Barber — shooting above 40 percent from three.
Rutgers all of a sudden became a very good shooting team once Big Ten play started and the numbers back that up. In non-conference play, the Knights shot 25.1 percent from three. In Big Ten play they are shooting 36.6 percent which will help keep them in games in the future.
This large difference will help Rutgers become a dangerous team on any given day, as a good day behind the arc can be the difference in any game. To beat the Terps, they will have to have one of those games but also be close to mistake-free.
In their last game against Iowa, the Knights had nearly 20 more offensive rebounds but consistently failed to capitalize on their dominance inside.
“When we get offensive rebounds, we just need to make the easy layups with contact. That’s just that,” Stringer said.
Another area in which the Knights have struggled is making easy and uncontested shots. This issue must also be cleaned up, as there will be no margin for error when they tip off Sunday.
“We are missing layups when nobody is near us, quite frankly,” Stringer said. “We gotta do better.”