Berkeley, Calif. (– Despite a double-double from junior forward Chelsey Lee (Miami, Fla.) and a career-best scoring output from sophomore guard Eric Wheeler (Miami, Fla.), Rutgers women’s basketball was unable to overcome a second-half surge by Cal, as the Scarlet Knights dropped their season opener 66-57 at Haas Pavilion on Friday night.
“We addressed the turnovers being key, the other would be defensive transition,” said Rutgers head coach C. Vivian Stringer. “The last time we played them it was pretty much like a track meet. We were many times not even at half court and they were looking to attack. I think we were a little more conscious of that, but you can’t dribble, penetrate and then just turn the ball over. It happened way too much.
“The turnovers were one of the things that hurt us, the other was the rebounding. We basically have Chelsey Lee and Monique Oliver getting to the boards. We’re just not a big team; I think that was rather obvious.”
Lee, who led the Scarlet Knights with five double-doubles in 2009-10, picked up where she left off, as she pulled down a career-high 14 rebounds to go along with 10 points on 4-of-8 shooting. Wheeler also put together a career night, leading Rutgers with 16 points, including going 4-of-6 from three-point range.
Rutgers fell behind early in the first half with the Golden Bears pulling out to a 5-0 lead to start the contest. It was the largest lead of the half for Cal as the Scarlet Knights erased the deficit and then went on to a run of its own, taking a six-point advantage at 21-15. Wheeler scored 13 of her 16 points in the first half, including seven straight during the stretch to help keep the game close for RU.
In what was a see-saw battle, Cal fought their way back into the game towards the end of the first half, cutting the Scarlet Knight lead to one point at the halftime break 31-30. That momentum carried over into the second half with the Golden Bears tying the game at 37-37 before going on several runs, including their largest lead of the game, a 15-point advantage (60-45).
Rutgers chipped at the Cal lead on a number of occasions, getting it down to eight (63-55) but a couple miscues proved to make the difference as the Golden Bears held on for the 66-57 win.
“Cal did a great job of attacking and finding the open people,” said Stringer. “We had a number of issues that had to do with miscommunication. We had a chance in the last couple minutes to bring the game to a real close, respectable margin but we just blew it in terms of the miscues. I think some of that was miscommunication on timing, we need to trust each other a lot more.
“We’ll be better. We’ll be much better and it won’t be that long because we have enough things in place now.”
Sophomore forward/center Monique Oliver (Las Vegas, Nev.) added to the Rutgers scoring with nine points on nearly perfect shooting, going 4-of-5 from the floor. Redshirt junior guard Khadijah Rushdan (Wilmington, Del.) also checked in with nine points.
The Scarlet Knights will play the second of their two-game west coast trip on Sunday, Nov. 14, against No. 3/2 Stanford. Tip-off is set for 2 p.m. at Maples Pavilion.