Knights grip for intrastate showdown

<p>Junior forward Chelsey Lee leads the Knights in rebounding,
averaging 9.5 boards per game. The Miami native returns as the
team's leading rebounder from last season.</p>

Junior forward Chelsey Lee leads the Knights in rebounding, averaging 9.5 boards per game. The Miami native returns as the team's leading rebounder from last season.

History often repeats itself, evident in the Rutgers women's basketball team's two losses last weekend to California and No. 3 Stanford.

The weekend marked the second time in three years the Scarlet Knights returned winless from a trip West, but none of that matters for tonight's home opener against Princeton.

With the Tigers coming to town, head coach C. Vivian Stringer's team will turn the page and keep a winning home tradition in its mind, one that includes dominance over their in-state rivals.

"We have to get every game and any game every time that we can," Stringer said. "We just want to continue to keep our fans as a sixth player and treat this floor like it is your home floor."

The Knights (0-2) own their intrastate foe, beating the Tigers (1-0) in 14 out of 15 contests all-time. Even more impressive is the dominance the team displayed at the Louis Brown Athletic Center, as the squad is a perfect 9-0 against its Ivy League opponent.

But the Tigers ride up Route 1 after crushing Farleigh Dickinson, 78-37, in their season opener and seek long awaited revenge from Rutgers.

In that game, center Devona Allgood paced last year's Ivy League Champion down low, as she scored 20 points and recorded three blocks in the victory.

With a height disadvantage –– apparent in the Knights' rebounding woes as they were bested by 25 on the boards thus far –– stopping second-chance opportunities against the Tigers could be the difference between winning and losing.

"They're a tough team," Stringer said. "They execute very well, they attack, they've got a legitimate post that's bigger than our post, and they dribble drive. When you have those elements there, that can be trouble."

To get back on track, the Knights may also need to address the turnover issue, as the team coughed the ball up 31 times last weekend.

In the history of the program, the Knights never started a season 0-3, and with a schedule loaded with difficult Big East competition, wins won't come easily this season for Stringer and Co.

For Rutgers and junior guard Khadijah Rushdan, getting wins in Piscataway are key.

"I think it's very important," Rushdan said. "It's especially important to protect your home court because you know it's very hard to play on the road. You've got to deal with other people's fans, and being away and not knowing your own court.

"But we know these balls, and know these rims and we have our fans, so it's very important to do everything we can do to get as many wins as possible."

Rushdan, the most experienced player on the roster, scored just 15 points last weekend, while shooting only 6-for-20 from the field.

While the Wilmington, Del., native had her struggles offensively, sophomore guard Erica Wheeler rose to the occasion, averaging 16 points in both losses.

Her showing came as no surprise to junior forward Chelsey Lee though, Wheeler's former teammate at Parkway Academy (Fla.).

"To be completely honest, in practice when we scrimmaged a lot, her shots were off," Lee said. "We've got to hit outside shots. When she was hitting shots in the game it wasn't like a shock. I was happy that she was hitting shots."

Juniors April Sykes and Nikki Speed scored 20 and 10 points, respectively, last weekend for the Knights and will need to improve for Stringer's offense to have any shot at scoring more points.

But more than anything else, tonight's 7:30 tip off on a newly-renovated RAC floor comes down to pride.

"It feels great to have a new floor that no one's played on," Lee said. "We can make it our floor and start a new tradition."

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