Scarlet Knights skid into South Florida
Stuck on a three game losing skid, a look at the schedule shows that the Rutgers women's basketball passed through the worst of the storm.
The Scarlet Knights saw four teams in the top-five rankings this season, including two in their past three games in No. 1 Connecticut and No. 3 Notre Dame.
While the game against Connecticut was out of reach for most of the way, resulting in a 37-point blowout loss, the Knights had legitimate chances at beating the Fighting Irish as well as No. 18 Georgetown, leading to more thoughts of what could have been.
With only eight games remaining in the regular season, the Knights need to start winning if they want to keep their hopes of an NCAA Tournament bid alive.
Head coach C. Vivian Stringer knows it will not be easy.
"We're just trying to recover, and I'm trying to keep my sanity right now," Stringer said after Monday's loss to the Irish. "So I just back, everything and everybody off of me, everything and everybody off this team, and see if we can't somehow get our confidence, somehow play better in the Big East and steal an opportunity to play in the NCAA's. And I don't know if that's possible."
Possible? Without a doubt. Easy? Not so much.
But if RU (12-10, 4-4) is serious about its postseason aspirations, games like tomorrow's contest against South Florida is a must win.
The Bulls (13-8, 4-4) sport an identical conference record to the Knights this season. Once considered an easy win in the Big East, USF dashed that theory against RU last season, upending the Knights 59-56 at the Louis Brown Athletic Center.
Combine that element with RU's streaky play this season and it is clear the team has a tough game on its hands.
With senior guard Brittany Ray mired in a 3-for-31 shooting slump, the pressure is on her young supporting cast to pick up the slack. But the team's underclassmen continue to struggle in their own right.
Sophomore forward April Sykes logged 24 minutes against the Irish but had little to show for it, missing all 10 of her shot attempts from the floor. Despite scoring 16 points against the Hoyas and 18 against Notre Dame, sophomore guard Khadijah Rushdan turned the ball over six times in each of the past two games.
Though she was riding a hot streak over winter break, freshman guard Erica Wheeler's shot fell flat as conference play wore on.
Stringer said she is confident that her team's younger corps will come into its own.
"[Former Knight] Matee Ajavon lives for this day," Stringer said. "[Former Knight] Essence Carson lives for this day. These young people, while they will come to live for that day, are thrown into this mess, this fire. And they're struggling for their lives."
The question now is how long will those struggles continue? With games remaining against No. 11 West Virginia and No. 25 St. John's, RU needs to find the answer sooner than later.
"It's hard, we work so hard and we put so much in and sometimes we come up short, but we can't let it carry on to the next practice or the next game and keep being upset about the last game," said sophomore forward Chelsey Lee. "We're just trying to regroup and rebuild."