Rutgers transfer begins to find her groove

<p>Junior wing Kahleah Copper has benefited from Hernandez’s emergence as a shooter. On Sunday at Wisconsin, Copper posted 14 points in the win. </p>

Junior wing Kahleah Copper has benefited from Hernandez’s emergence as a shooter. On Sunday at Wisconsin, Copper posted 14 points in the win. 

The path that led Cynthia Hernandez to Piscataway is far from the usual. 

She wasn’t a blue chip recruit when college programs looked at her — and she didn’t appear in a McDonald’s All-American game back in her high school days.

Before she could embark on the cross-country journey from the West Coast to New Jersey, Hernandez spent two years playing at the junior college level. 

Unlike many of her teammates who made the immediate jump from high school, Hernandez utilized her time in her hometown of Ventura, California, at the local community college in an effort to perfect her craft as a sharpshooter and improve all-around as a basketball player.

In terms of how that went, the numbers tend to speak for themselves.

Highlighted by a sensational sophomore season where she exploded onto the scene to drop 17.1 points per game on a ridiculous 46.7 shooting percentage from three-point range, Hernandez ended a brief yet illustrious career at Ventura College by etching her name in the record books.

On the way to sparking the Pirates to a state and conference championship, Hernandez drained a school record 115 3-pointers to go along with the highest 3-point field goal percentage in school history. 

The results created a buzz so big it caught the eyes of head coach C. Vivian Stringer, who eventually recruited Hernandez onto the team this year.

“I love the junior college transfers, and I say that because Cynthia Hernandez and Natalie Parsons are such good 3-point shooters,” Stringer said prior to the season. “… It’s really exciting to have that element, and that’s something we recognize. [Three-point shooting] hasn’t been as consistent as it needs to be, so we’re looking to take more threes without question.”

Hernandez noted her excitement, but not everything has come easy for the junior guard.

Her use has been limited, coming off the bench in 14 of the team’s 18 games this season to average 7.9 minutes per game.  

Hernandez admits it was a difficult learning curve — and she says it has been difficult being far away from her family back home in California — but things are beginning to look up now.

On Sunday, Hernandez injected life into the Knights’ offense with a season-high 17 points in just 14 minutes off the bench in a 73-63 win at Wisconsin. She caught fire from beyond the arc, draining 5-of-6 3-pointers to get Rutgers back into the win column following a 71-59 home less to No. 8 Maryland. 

Her performance reflects the ability to adjust to her new role off the bench and catapult the offense into scoring when needed. 

“I mean, it’s been kind of hard at some points because I have to learn everything. There’s just so much to learn,” Hernandez said. “But now that I know everything, it’s starting to work out, and I’m starting to blend in with [the team] and stuff. They’re really good with me. They’re there with me when I don’t know stuff.”

With the 3-point shot as an added element to the attack, it opened up scoring opportunities in the paint and in transition for players like Kahleah Copper.

The junior wing noted how dangerous it could be for other teams to have to guard all ends of the floor.

While that consistency remains to be seen, it appears as if her teammate is beginning to settle in. 

“She has really been working so hard and [gotten] a lot better,” Copper said. “She’s been getting a lot quicker and coming off of games. She’s just been working really hard, and she’s really important for us ... we just love to have her.”

For updates on the Rutgers women’s basketball team, follow @GarrettStepien and @TargumSports on Twitter.

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