Rushdan boasts experience from UConn upset
There is no other way around it; the Rutgers women's basketball team is taking on arguably the greatest women's basketball team ever assembled tonight when they play No. 2 Connecticut in Piscataway.
Behind the talk of UConn's unprecedented 90-game winning streak and all the records the Huskies set along the way, lays a blip on the radar when Rutgers once came out on top.
Good thing one member of the Scarlet Knights roster still holds the memory of that victory.
"Just to never give up. You've got to fight," said junior guard Khadijah Rushdan on what she learned from winning against Connecticut, 73-71, in 2008. "The mindset of this team and playing for [head coach C.Vivian Stringer] is always a fighting mentality, always playing hard.
"Regardless of what may happen during the game, we have to always remember that."
While memories of the Knights' victory over head coach Geno Auriema's then-undefeated Connecticut team may faintly exist, Rushdan still brings more to the table than any other member of the Rutgers roster.
With a win tonight, the Wilmington, Del., native could become one of the few players in the country to own two wins against UConn (19-1, 7-0).
The junior class of forwards Chelsey Lee and April Sykes and guard Nikki Speed all came to the Banks a season after the win and lack the winning experience Rushdan has.
Since that time, the Knights (12-6, 5-0) have dropped five-straight to their conference rivals, a stretch in which the Huskies have not lost to any other conference opponent.
"It's different when you experience it," said Stringer. "They [Connecticut] know what it feels like to have that kind of success. These other young people just hear about it, but they don't know. And that's not their fault, they just don't know."
The Knights carry their own streaks into the matchup though, even if none are as groundbreaking as a 90-game winning streak.
Stringer and Co. will take the floor of the Louis Brown Athletic Center tonight looking to improve upon a perfect 8-0 record within its confines.
The squad has thrived in the post as of late thanks to the play of Lee and sophomore center Monique Oliver, translating to a current five-game winning streak that includes a pair of road wins.
"I don't want to get beside myself and start playing mind games with myself, thinking I have to do something different because of the name of the team we're playing," Lee said. "I want to keep maintaining the same level of intensity and energy I've had in the three previous games but I'm just going to prepare myself the same way."
In those games, the Miami native notched consecutive double-doubles and during the win streak averages 18.0 points, 5.6 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game.
Staying consistent down low is a must against the likes of the Huskies, who boast one of the nation's best players in forward Maya Moore, who averages 24.2 points per game.
"She has to be in the top 10, easy in the top 10," Stringer said of where Moore stands among all-time greats. "Maybe top five. I'd have to give some thought to that, some real thought to the players that preceded her, but she's a special talent. Her being a special talent is evident with the way she plays."
But Moore is to UConn as junior forward April Sykes is to the Knights.
The Starkville, Miss., native came up to the college ranks the same year as Moore, Sykes as the No. 2 overall recruit and Moore one spot above her.
Since then their careers have meshed differently, but Sykes, the team's leading scorer, still brings the ability to drop 20 points any given night.
Playing a Rutgers-style of basketball must come first though, according to Stringer.
"You always want to beat the best and clearly UConn is the best," Stringer said. "I think that to a great extent we just have to play our game, play the way that we play."
Stringer knows better than anyone that all streaks and records are meant to be broken. A loss tonight, and the Knights would continue on their way with just one conference blemish.
A win though, and the Knights would set off the national radar, this time with much more than a faint blip.