Knights hobble into conference matchup
The way head coach C. Vivian Stringer sees it, she's stealing time.
With the roster stretched thin as it is and with the loss of junior guard Nikki Speed to an ankle injury for an undetermined period of time, the Rutgers women's basketball team needs to overcome its fatigue to maintain one of the top spots in the Big East standings, Stringer said.
"We have to somehow be able to steal time until we can get Nikki [back]," Stringer said. "And even when we get Nikki, we still need to be very diplomatic. We need to steal some time. We need to steal minutes and opportunities in a game. I've got to do a better job of making sure the kids are rested."
The Scarlet Knights (11-6, 4-0) remain tied for first place in Big East play with Connecticut and DePaul after road wins over both Syracuse and Cincinnati and took every second of their seven-day lag between games to heal up and prepare for what's on the horizon.
"We're making it by a thread, and I do think that I am perfectly pleased [because] we've been trying," Stringer said. "We've been doing better. I think that everybody has stepped up."
With Speed out, Stringer moved sophomore Erica Wheeler into the starting lineup, but the biggest adjustment was for freshman Daisha Simmons, who goes from a 10-minute per game guard to the first player off the bench.
"I think she's happy, and I think that the more she plays, the more confident she is going to become and the more confident we are going to be," Stringer said of Simmons, who upped her average to three points and 17 minutes per game. "I just have to really spend time and tell her from my eyes what's going on."
The first task on tap for Rutgers, which returns to the Louis Brown Athletic Center tomorrow at 2 p.m. after two weeks away, is Providence.
The Friars (9-8, 2-3) come off a road win against Villanova and have four wins in their last six appearances. Guards Symone Roberts and Mi-Khida Hankins, the only players averaging double-digits in scoring for Providence, present a threat on the perimeter.
"Their guard-play is definitely tough," said junior guard Khadijah Rushdan. "They don't play a big [starting] five, so we need our post players to be able to play against their perimeter players to be successful."
Providence is not the primary challenge in Rutgers' crosshairs, however, as the ever-dominant Connecticut Huskies are next for the Knights.
Rutgers is the last Big East team to take down the Huskies, but that win came more than three years ago.
Rushdan, who is the team's co-leader in scoring with 14 points per game, said that the best way to stay prepared before Connecticut is to focus on Providence first.
"It is definitely important to focus on Providence," she said. "We can't get lackadaisical just because big, bad Connecticut is coming. We have been winning the last few games because we keep coming out stronger. It is important that we play even better than we've been playing, and we can't look past Providence because that's how you lose."