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Rutgers' talented starting core leads itself to victory over Harvard

 – Photo by Jeffrey Gomez

Harvard may boast high levels of success in the classroom, but the Rutgers women’s basketball team dropped both knowledge and 74 points on the Crimson (3-1) on the court. 

In a Sunday matinee game at the Rutgers Athletic Center (RAC), the Scarlet Knights (4-0) showed how basketball is played on the Banks and won by a final score of 74-46. 

Rutgers stuck with what had been working and started the usual line-up that included graduate student guard Khadaizha “KK” Sanders, senior center Jordan Wallace, junior guard Arella Guirantes and junior forwards Tekia Mack and Mael Gilles. 

Head coach C. Vivian Stringer won her 503rd game while with the Knights, sitting at sixth place for all-time wins in NCAA women’s basketball behind Sylvia Hatchell of North Carolina.

“Really, and truly, my gratification is at the end of the game: sit back, relax and smile,” Stringer said. 

Both teams failed to score on the first few possessions of the game. Rutgers drew first blood with a layup from Wallace. Soon after, the Knights felt an unfamiliar feeling: They found themselves trailing for the first time in approximately 130 minutes of gameplay. 

After points from all over the floor, including a statement layup from Sanders, Harvard called its first timeout. The quarter finished with a score of 19-17 in favor of the Crimson. 

Stringer pointed to her team's 44.4% shooting from the field as the main reason for the decline. 

“We were just missing shots at the beginning,” Stringer said.

Rutgers came back from its huddle in-between quarters looking like a different team. It had several fast breaks and aggressive drives leading to 10 points in the paint during the quarter. 

The Knights’ defense looked as strong as ever. What will be remembered on defense is a powerful block on the baseline from Gilles. 

Rutgers marched back to the locker room with a comfortable lead of 39-27. 

The second-half scoring opened with a layup from Mack. She and Sanders led the scoring efforts in the third by putting up layups from every angle. Mack’s athleticism was on display as she soared over two Harvard defenders for 2 of her 10 points. 

The Knights had their most dominant quarter of the game in the third, where they scored a total of 24 points. 

In another forceful fourth quarter for Rutgers, the ball spent most of its time on offense for the Knights. When it was in the hands of the Crimson, Gilles quickly changed that by wrestling the ball away. 

Freshman center Maori Davenport was even able to excite the crowd by using her 6-foot-4-inch frame to muscle her way in. The final frame was an example of the persistence of a Rutgers team that continued to attack the hoop, regardless of the score. 

In the second half, the Knights began to use a full-court press, labeled by Guirantes as the 55. The guard was confident in the team’s ability to run the press.

“The 55 is really our identity,” Guirantes said. “We just know once we start the 55, we have a certain attitude.”

That attitude propelled Rutgers into only letting up 19 points in the second half. 

Three players finished with a double-double, including Wallace, who had the first of her career. She finished the day with 14 points and 10 rebounds in what she felt was the best game of her career. 

“I was really working hard for it,” Wallace said. “I just tried to concentrate efforts on boxing out and getting every rebound I can get.” 

Although she didn’t register a double-double, Sanders had a huge impact as well, scoring 14 points. 

The Knights will look to keep the momentum going next Sunday when they travel to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to take on LSU. The week between games will be the longest break for Rutgers so far this season. 

The contest will be the first time since the season opener at Southern Alabama that the Knights won’t have a home-court advantage. The Tigers (3-1) have two games before they suit up against Rutgers. 

Stringer and the entire coaching staff are confident in what the team has displayed. 

“We can move because they’re ready,” Stringer said. "They have picked up a lot of things that we’ve introduced in a relatively short period of time.” 

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