Rutgers women’s basketball coach C. Vivian Stringer earned her 899th career victory on Feb. 9, but she made bigger headlines the day before when she reacted hostilely and used several expletives while defending the state of her program.
Talking to a small group of reporters on Feb. 8, Stringer got defensive when it was suggested that the women’s basketball program was at a crossroads because its average attendance (1, 964) is on pace to be the lowest in the last six years and its streak of 10 straight NCAA Tournament berths is in jeopardy.
“You know and I know that this program has been the star of this university in athletics for the past 15 years,” Stringer said. “So you really think I want to hear about the last three years? If you really think that I am not busting my tail …. We have some outstanding (recruits) that will be coming in. If everybody would just relax, (they) would realize there are nine freshmen and sophomores out here.”
In addition to the youth of her team, Stringer pointed to injuries that have hampered senior Monique Oliver and redshirt senior Chelsey Lee as the reason the team has struggled this season. Oliver, a Preseason All- Big East selection, has been bothered by an ankle injury while Lee hasn’t returned to form after missing all of last season after undergoing shoulder surgery.
Rutgers improved to 14-8 overall and 5-4 in the Big East with a 55-46 victory over Cincinnati on Saturday. With the victory, Springer needs just one more win to join the 900 win-club and that could happen at DePaul on Feb. 12.
Oliver, the Scarlet Knights leading scorer (10.5) coming into the game against the Bearcats, scored 13 points on 5-of-10 shooting from the floor and grabbed seven boards (four offensive) to pace Rutgers. Betnijah Laney added 12 points and seven rebounds while Shakena Richardson contributed 12 points, eight rebounds and four assists for the Scarlet Knights. Lee hauled in a game-high nine boards (five offensive).
Stringer, who is the highest paid state employee in New Jersey at a base salary of $1.035 million, is signed through the 2014 season. She is in her 42-year as a head coach and has produced an 899-326 overall record. Stringer has reached the NCAA Tournament in 25 of the 31 years of its existence and has made four Final Fours (two with the Scarlet Knights). Stringer was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 2009.
Rutgers has struggled of late, at least in the eyes of the media and fans, as they have been bounced out of the NCAA Tournament during the first week in each of the past three years.
The Scarlet Knights have compiled a 74- 46 overall record and 34-22 in the Big East since the start of the 2009-10 season. Rutgers is just 1-28 against teams ranked in the Top-10 during this time frame. They have seen their average attendance drop from 4,740 in 2007-08 to an inflated 1,964 this season.
Can the Scarlet Knights make the 2012-13 NCAA Tournament?
Rutgers has the seventh best overall record out of all Big East teams and is currently tied for sixth place in the conference with South Florida (16-6 overall) and St. John’s (11-10 overall). The Scarlet Knights are 1-4 against ranked opponents and have a 48 RPI ranking.
Rutgers has seven games left and four of those teams have a higher RPI than the Scarlet Knights. They are 7-1 at the RAC on the season.
Rutgers will play at DePaul (17-7), vs. No. 3 Connecticut (22-1), at No. 24 Syracuse (19-3), at St. John’s (11-10), vs. South Florida (16-6), at Cincinnati (8-15) and vs. Pittsburgh (9-14).
The Scarlet Knights, who are on a three game winning streak, have a real chance of reaching the NCAA Tournament for the 11th straight season. In order for them to do so, Rutgers must beat Connecticut or go 5-2 the rest of the way and have outstanding performances versus UConn and Syracuse. Depending on the outcome of the regular season, they also may need to also win a game or two in the Big East Tournament.
Future of the program
Stringer, 64, still seems to be in touch with the younger generation as she has had three top-10 recruiting classes in the past four years. Her 2011 and 2012 recruiting classes were ranked as the third best in the nation by ESPN Hoopgurlz.
While the Scarlet Knights may have not gotten as much production as they had hoped for out of their past two recruiting classes this season, the roster includes some obvious talent led by 6-0 sophomore Bernijah Laney. Laney leads the team is minutes (670) and is third on the squad in scoring (9.5).
Other key underclassmen includes 6-1 freshman Kahleah Copper (5.6 pg, 3.5 rpg), 5-4 sophomore Shakena Richardson (4.6 ppg, 56 assts.), 5-7 sophomore Syessence Davis (2.7 ppg., 2.9 rpg, 75 assts.) and 6-4 freshman Rachel Hollivay (2.5 ppg., 2.5 rpg., and 11 blks).
The Scarlet Knights have already added 5-11 junior Alexis Burke and 5-9 Tyler Scaife to the mix next year. Burke is sitting out the season after transferring from Illinois and Scaife (Little Rock, Ark.) is rated as the number one point guard in the 2013 class by Hoopgurlz.