Ray's second-half run keys victory at The Pavilion
VILLANOVA, Pa. — Brittany Ray didn't score a single point in the first half.
But when Villanova was in striking distance in the second half, the senior guard did what the Rutgers women's basketball team came to expect from her this season — put up numbers.
Ray poured in 14 points in the second half to push the Scarlet Knights past the Wildcats 49-36 Saturday at The Pavilion.
"I just felt I needed to be more of an offensive threat in the game," Ray said. "Coach [C. Vivian] Stringer drew up a play for me and I hit my first shot, after that I just kept shooting. They just tell me to keep shooting and if I wasn't shooting to make sure I find my other teammates."
With the Knights up by six points in the second half, Ray began her meteoric scoring run. The senior drained a mid-range jumper and hit the first of her two three-point shots less than a minute later to give the Knights their first double-digit lead of the game.
Fresh off her third double-double this season, sophomore forward Chelsey Lee delivered another solid performance, tallying seven points, three steals and eight rebounds. Lee's partner in the paint, senior forward Myia McCurdy, performed equally well with six points, eight boards and a pair of steals.
Individual statistics aside, RU accomplished an even rarer feat. For only the third time this season — the second game in a row — RU ended the game with a positive assist-to-turnover ratio with 12 and nine, respectively. The Knights' nine turnovers are tied for the fewest this season.
"We've been so bad on the turnovers that I was glad to give that good news to our team," Stringer said. "Last year, compared to this year, it was about this time that we hit stride. But we doggone sure need to hit stride now because we've been sputtering."
After sitting out the last game against Seton Hall because of a suspension, Stringer returned to the bench. When asked about the suspension after the game, the coach offered no comment, but praised the job associate head coach Carlene Mitchell did during her brief absence.
"I wasn't surprised [about the Seton Hall game] at all, because I knew Carlene would do an outstanding job," Stringer said.
The victory over the Wildcats marks the third-straight victory for the Knights (15-10, 7-4), whose tournament hopes continue to improve.
With RU dead even at 4-4 in the Big East and on the bubble for the NCAA Tournament, the Knights' chances of making the Big Dance were in limbo. Despite the team's recent success, Stringer has enough experience to know that nothing is guaranteed.
"I think it's going to depend on what we do for the rest of the season," Stringer said. "If we bomb out we're in trouble. … Those of us who have been around long enough, when it comes this far, we're always surprised. One way or another, we're surprised."
In the first half, it was difficult to tell exactly which team was 1-9 in the Big East conference heading into the game.
Neither offense elected to show up at tip-off and it took considerable time for both teams to settle into a rhythm. By the six-minute mark, the Wildcats led 12-10 and proceeded to go on a four-minute shooting drought.
The Knights struggled to hit open shots, and a near six-minute scoreless streak plagued them earlier in the half. While Rutgers' 33.3 percent shooting was nothing to write home about, the Wildcats' 25 percent kept the it afloat.
RU escaped into intermission with a 20-15 advantage — the 20 points scored tied for the fourth-lowest amount scored in the first-half this season, while the Wildcats' 15 were the second lowest.