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G'Town offers measuring stick for young team

<p>Junior guard Nikki Speed enters tonight's game against
Georgetown after posting a career high 17 points against Central
Connecticut St.</p>

Junior guard Nikki Speed enters tonight's game against Georgetown after posting a career high 17 points against Central Connecticut St.

A double-overtime win against Georgetown in last year's Big East Tournament still rings loud in the minds of many on the Rutgers women's basketball team.

When head coach C. Vivian Stringer's squad hits the hardwood at the Louis Brown Athletic Center tonight to take on the Hoyas for the first time since that game, many familiar faces will be on the floor for both sides.

So who made the most strides since that contest?

Stringer will not know the answer to that question until after the contest, but embraces the challenge of finding out.

"There's no question, Georgetown gives us the chance to measure up," Stringer said. "You do not know if you've improved unless you challenge yourself against the best and Georgetown has been impressive in their play. 

"They're better, more confident and probably the quickest zone that I've seen, period. They've got all the elements necessary to be successful. I know that we've gotten better, but it would be great to have a quality win so that we know we've gotten better."

A quality win is something that has eluded Stringer and Co. so far this season.

The team had its shot at No. 3 Stanford and California in a trip to the West and failed to snag a win in a nail-biter against nearby Temple.

With No. 12 Georgetown coming to town, the Scarlet Knights kick off a slew of tough matchups with some of the most elite schools in the nation — a list that includes No. 25 Boston College, No. 8 Texas A&M and No. 7 Tennessee.

The Knights could already go a long way toward building their NCAA Tournamentrésumé with a couple of big wins, but the challenge starts with protecting their home floor tonight — something the team has done successfully in its history.

Add the fact that Big East rival Georgetown –– a team the Knights are 16-3 against all-time –– is the one lighting the torch to the difficult schedule, and the stakes are raised even higher.

"We have to defend it — its personal now," said junior guard Nikki Speed, who made the 3-pointer to force a second overtime last year against the Hoyas. "We're the first ones to play on this court, so that means something. We want to an undefeated season on our floor, so it's very personal with all of us."

Speed put her best foot forward the last time she took to the newly renovated RAC floor, recording her best game since coming to Piscataway.

The Pasadena, Calif., native scored a career-high 17 points and added four assists. The scoring output may have been unexpected for others, but not to the junior point guard and her teammates.

"Nikki has always been a good shooter for us," said junior forward April Sykes, who led the team with 18 points against Central Connecticut State. "Just to see Nikki relax and pulling up for threes and knowing it's going in already going down the court — that's another level of confidence a person can have. It's great to see her making shots."

Sykes was on fire in the second half of the game against CCS, finishing 8-for-13 from the field in a game the Knights won by 41 points.

The team does not expect things to come as easy when it opens up conference play.

The Hoyas' backcourt of sophomore Sugar Rogers and senior Monica McNutt lead Georgetown in scoring with 17.3 and 12.5 points per game, respectively.

Rogers posted a double-double with 20 points and 12 boards a season ago to lead all scorers as a true freshman in her team's Big East Tournament loss.

But to win the first leg of this tough stretch, the Knights must start with defense, something Stringer often harps upon.

Rutgers welcomes a dynamic backcourt, a legitimate postgame and a ranked opponent for the first time since the squad took on No. 3 Stanford in its second contest of the season.

The defense will be tested — along with the rest of the team — but the Hall of Fame head coach would not have it any other way.

"Everybody is having great years — the teams that we're playing," Stringer said. "And yet it's these kinds of games that really get me excited."

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