Knights seek to solve road woes in Queens
With the final stretch of the season winding down for the Rutgers women's basketball team, consider it judgment day.
The Scarlet Knights (12-8, 5-2) battle formerly ranked conference rival St. John's tonight in Queens, N.Y., in the first of the final five road contests until the end of the year.
And if the squad's record away from the Banks so far this season is any indication, it could be a rough final month for head coach C. Vivian Stringer and her team.
The Knights are almost a week removed from being considered among the elite in the Big East, but with back-to-back double-digit conference losses and a date with the Johnnies (15-6, 4-4), they could soon become an afterthought.
Still, even with two blemishes after starting the season unbeaten in the Big East, all is not lost for Stringer and Co.
Rutgers has shown ability to bounce back this season and the ability to be consistent –– apparent in the team's five-game winning streak that ended with a loss to No. 2 Connecticut.
But these gritty traits –– traits most Stringer teams have ––appeared only in flashes for the Hall of Fame head coach.
Aside from junior forward April Sykes, who is averaging 14.5 points per game to lead the team, there is an offensive void that is never consistently filled.
During the team's winning streak, sophomore center Monique Oliver and junior forward Chelsey Lee filled that void, with the post pair making the Big East honor roll in consecutive weeks.
Since then, the two have struggled to maintain their form, pushing the load on Sykes and junior guard Khadijah Rushdan, who is trying to rebound from two straight tough outings.
The Wilmington, Del., native last scored in double figures in the squad's road win at Cincinnati two weeks ago, when she tallied 16 points to tie for the team's lead in scoring on the night.
But this could be the perfect game for Rushdan to get back on track.
Although the Knights fell to the Red Storm last season in Piscataway, Rushdan recorded 14 points on 7-of-16 shooting to lead the team in scoring.
Rutgers also has a historical edge working in its favor, as the Knights have dropped just two games against St. John's all-time on the road.
And with the emergence of a confident Sykes — something missing a year ago — Rushdan should feel more comfortable than ever in the team's short trek up the turnpike to New York.
But as a whole, the Knights have quite the task at hand.
The Johnnies relied on a balanced attack in their win a year ago, as four players scored in double-figures en route to victory.
Three of those players — sophomores Nadirah McKenith and Shenneika Smith and junior Da'Sheena Stevens — look to once again wreak havoc on Stringer's defense, and with a clear height advantage all across the board, the trio could be difficult to contain.
But the Knights have shown ability to battle a height deficiency before, when they were able to stifle No. 19 Georgetown's 6-foot-6 center, Sydney Wilson to seal an early-season upset.
Rutgers has shown its youthful inexperience at times this season, as well as its ability to play with the elite.
When the ball drops tonight at Carnesecca Arena, another test of the latter will begin.