The long-awaited women's college basketball season tips off on Wednesday with games across the nation. The Rutgers women’s basketball team begins its season Wednesday at 11 a.m. at the Rutgers Athletic Center (RAC), against Monmouth.
Both teams played Niagara last year, with the Hawks falling in both games and the Scarlet Knights winning by 50 points. Rutgers returns nearly half of its roster from last year, including three starters.
Senior guard Arella Guirantes, senior forward and guard Tekia Mack and senior forward Mael Gilles anchors the lineup filled with newcomers. Leading the Big Ten in scoring, Guirantes averaged 20.6 points per game (PPG) while logging an average of 37.1 minutes per game. A portion of her points came from her 171 successful free throws, setting a new record for the Knights.
In her media day interview, head coach C. Vivian Stringer said Guirantes could play in many different roles this year.
“We are going to play her sometimes as a point guard,” Stringer said. “We’ll play her as a two (shooting guard) and a three (small forward) because she has (a) nice size to be able to do that.”
Guirantes was recognized as one of the Coaches Big Ten Co-Preseason Players of the Year, and was also named to the watch list for the Naismith Trophy given to the top collegiate basketball player in the country, the watch list for the Wade Trophy for national player of the year and selected as a candidate for the Ann Meyers Drysdale Award for the nation's best shooting guard.
Last season she notched 94 assists, 48 steals and 37 blocks, while bringing down six rebounds per game, second to Mack.
The rebounding leader from last year was 1 of 5 players named to the Big Ten All-Defensive team after posting 61 steals and 26 blocks. Mack’s 2.1 steals per game were good for fourth in the Big Ten. Mack posted 11.7 PPG and recorded four double-doubles.
The last remaining starter is Gilles. Starting all but three games last season, Gilles brought down five rebounds per game to go along with 46 steals and 22 blocks throughout the year.
Starting in two games in place of Gilles but appearing in 27 games was junior guard Zipporah Broughton. Her career-high in scoring came against Michigan when Broughton sank three shots from behind the arc. In the double-overtime matchup against Minnesota, Broughton hauled in her career-high of five rebounds.
“She has to be the highlight for me right now, because I look at her everyday and I’m stunned with the way she has approached the year,” Stringer said. “She is real serious about how she plays the game. She’s extremely patient.”
Broughton averaged nearly 4 PPG and 1.5 rebounds during her first two seasons and is 1 of 6 players from last year's team who returns on the roster.
Finishing second-to-last in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference last season, Monmouth ended with a 9-22 record, claiming victory in five conference games. Their two leading scorers graduated, leaving Lucy Thomas to guide the Hawks.
In 25 games, Thomas averaged 9.2 points and 6.7 rebounds on route to five double-doubles. She dished out a career-high six assists against Iona.
Both Rutgers and Monmouth have six true freshmen on their rosters. The Hawks added a 1,000-point scorer Jania Hall and a five-year varsity player Belle Kranbuhl.
She has been named to the watch list for the Nancy Lieberman Award, which is presented to the top point guard in the nation.
This season is getting started approximately three weeks after last year’s starting date. The full schedule was recently released with games going into late February. Stringer said her players getting ready to go.
“They’re anxious and excited," she said.
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