Sunday, March 22, 2009

RU "Piphs" VCU....But Woe Is That Bench



Its been a a year for Rutgers women's basketball that has had its share of lows, broken up by highs to lift the team out of a season long malaise. And yesterday's 57-51 first round NCAA victory over Virginia Commonwealth was a microcosm of the entire season.....bursts of excellent basketball followed by disappearing acts and blunders. Yes, this was a win, but yesterday's game took on alot of the characteristics of the historic meltdown RU had against Tennessee on January 3rd, a game in which Rutgers led 33-13 at the half, only to lose to the Lady Vols 55-51.

Yesterday RU played a sloppy game in the first half, but still led VCU by two points at the half, 25-23. Rutgers did open 8-1, but VCU got back into the game, led briefly, and the teams spent most of that first half exchanging the lead or being tied. In the second half, at the 11:20 mark RU led 40-33, and then went on a tear. Brittany Ray stole the ball, and dished to Epiphanny Prince who scored. Then Ray, cold until that point, hit a 2 and then a 3, and led by the steady Prince (26 points, 11 rebounds) and center Kia Vaughn (13 points, 6 boards in 25 minutes) RU went on a 15-4 run that gave them an 18 point lead with 6:18 to go, the game seemingly out of reach, 55-37.

Then RU Coach C. Vivian Stringer went to her bench, inserting the four freshmen from her highly touted recruiting class...and the roof didn't cave in, but it started to leak like crazy. There were silly fouls, allowing VCU to get to the line with the clock stopped, mindless turnovers, poor defense, and just a feeling of watching kids dropped into the deep end of the pool. Luckily starters Heather Zurich and Vaughn were reinserted before any further damage was done. VCU chipped away at RU down the last 6:13, outscoring RU 14-2. The final was 57-51...and never should have been that close.

I won't name names, or point fingers....but when March rolls around, the credo is freshmen are not freshmen anymore.. The mentality of "they aren't ready yet" doesn't cut it. Coach Stringer showed faith in these four freshmen to go in and contribute down the stretch...her reward for showing that faith almost cost Rutgers the game. There was some good play at times by certain individuals, but collectively they didn't get it done.

Using the criteria of Rutgers radio color commentator Mark Peterson, the job of bench players is to leave the team in better shape when they leave the game as compared to when they entered it....and the RU bench didn't do that.

Its time to grow up....right now.

The game's Box Score.

Up Next-The Auburn Tigers

Auburn Coach Nell Fortner has built a high scoring and talented juggernaut at Auburn (30-3) who smoked Lehigh in the first game in Piscataway yesterday, 85-49. At the 7:38 second half media break Auburn led 69-49....and Lehigh never scored again against what was the Auburn bench.

Led by SEC Player of the Year DeWanna Bonner (26 points), Trevesha Jackson (11 points),Keke Carrier ( 11 points), Chantel Hilliard (10 points), and Whitney Boddie (8 points, 9 assists) this is a good, deep, and VERY talented basketball team that could be still standing in early April. I've never seen a player of Bonner's height (6'4") with her skill set- she's guard, as thin as a reed....imagine Manut Bol playing shooting guard. And KeKe Carrier- she's simply the most massive woman (at 6'7") that I've ever seen. Watching her play against Lehigh was like watching an adult playing a CYO game against 12 year olds....she merely picked offensive rebounds out of the sky for the putback, while exhausted Lehigh defenders could only helplessly watch.

Rutgers can win this game. It's in Piscataway, on their home court. But they will have to be nearly perfect to do so.

And this has been less than a perfect season.

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