Hawkeyes' high-octane offense slams door on Knights' hopes for Tourney run
STANFORD, Calif. — Minutes after the Rutgers women's basketball team's 70-63 loss at the hands of Iowa, a subdued Brittany Ray sat at the podium.
The Scarlet Knights' NCAA Tournament life lasted only 40 minutes, and her career in a Rutgers uniform finally came to an end. After the team's up-and-down season finished on the Hawkeyes' terms, the senior guard reflected on her time as a Knight.
"I'd have to say the season was a little bit of a rollercoaster but we showed up near the end," Ray said. "Being a senior you want to go out differently and advance as far as you can, but unfortunately we lost our first game. But it was just a blessing that I was able to come here and get a scholarship and play for Coach Stringer."
Rutgers saw four players score in double figures, including 15 points from Ray and 14 from sophomore forward Chelsey Lee.
Statistically, Saturday's game was one of the strongest the Knights played this season. Rutgers sported an even assist-to-turnover ratio and a 52 percent shooting clip bolstered it in the second half.
But in the end, the Hawkeyes were simply better, outrebounding the Knights 39-29 and hitting 44 percent of their three-point opportunities.
"Honestly, if we had to lose to somebody there's no other team I'd like to lose to than the Iowa Hawkeyes," said Rutgers head coach C. Vivian Stringer. "I thought that we played hard, but Iowa is just better. We just weren't quick enough and they played a better game today."
After facing a deficit for the majority of the game, Rutgers finally regained the lead with just over 14 minutes to play on a layup by Lee.
While Rutgers increased its lead to five, the Hawkeyes' Kachine Alexander drained back-to-back threes to reclaim the narrow advantage.
Iowa's three-point shooting was just as lethal as advertised. Though the Hawkeyes went only 2-for-11 from downtown in the first half, they more than compensated in the second with a 8-of-12 shooting clip.
"We're exchanging twos and they're exchanging threes. We are not a three-point shooting team, number one," Stringer said. "So it looked like we were scoring more, but when you're making that many threes, that's what going to happen."
Neither team took a commanding advantage, swapping buckets through the final minutes. With only 3:35 remaining in the game, Rutgers found itself trailing by three, but never got over the hump. Iowa drained another three-pointer while Rutgers imploded, turning the ball over back-to-back possessions as the Hawkeyes stormed ahead on a 7-0 run.
The Knights had one final shot at bringing the game within a single possession on a steal by sophomore guard Nikki Speed, but the ball rolled around the rim and off, ending Rutgers' hopes of the comeback win.
"We were not very smart today," Stringer said. "Anxious and excited, but not very smart, and that's why we're sitting here with the ‘L.' We knew what Iowa was going to do, there was nothing that they did that surprised us."
Rutgers pulled out all the stops, but could not find the winning formula.
Stringer shuffled the lineup, looking for the perfect combination to stifle the Hawkeyes' attack. The Knights whipped out the 55-press repeatedly, but struggled to generate points off their defense.
"I think when we actually picked up the press we did a good job getting the steals, but there were a lot of times where we'd get the steal and couldn't convert," said senior forward Myia McCurdy. "What we need to do off the 55 is to convert off of every play —that would have helped us."
All five Hawkeye starters scored in double figures, doing just as much damage from the free throw line as they did on the court.
Iowa found itself at the line 28 times — completing 22 attempts — while the Knights only made 12 appearances at the charity stripe.
Rutgers (19-15) opened the game 2-of-10 from the floor before settling into an offensive flow. The Hawkeyes, meanwhile, turned to the inside-out combo of center Morgan Johnson and guard Jaime Printy for the bulk of their scoring.
Johnson scored six straight points on the Hawkeye's 6-0 run midway through the first period, while Printy went 2-of-3 from the three-point line. The duo entered halftime with eight points each.
Iowa (20-13) strung together a 9-2 run in the final seven minutes, putting the Knights down 28-21 entering the break.
The final blow to Rutgers' up-and-down season, the game is not one that Stringer's players will soon forget — all for the better, she said.
"I hope that we do remember [this game]," Stringer said. "I hope that it does hurt, I hope that it stings and I hope that we remember why this happened — paying attention to small things, because small things do matter."