Mountaineers end Knights' Tourney run in semifinals
HARTFORD, Conn. — Down in the second half for the second straight game, the Rutgers women's basketball team hoped it could pull off the same type of rally it used the night before to knock off Georgetown.
But lightning did not strike twice for the Scarlet Knights, who could not overcome a late double-digit deficit, falling to No. 7 West Virginia 56-49 in the semifinal round of the Big East Tournament.
Despite the loss, the Knights patched together an impressive 2-1 run in Hartford, winning key games to help shore up their NCAA Tournament hopes.
"A lot of people thought we would be out of [the Tournament] after our first game," said sophomore guard Chelsey Lee, who finished with seven points and seven rebounds. "I just hope we get promised another 40 minutes. If we are, it will be in our hands, in our control, to make sure we get another 40 minutes."
Sophomore guard Khadijah Rushdan led the Knights with 12 points, but Rutgers' offense moved in fits and starts.
The Knights' old ghosts — turnovers and poor shooting — came back to haunt them against the Mountaineers. RU turned the ball over 18 times, leading to 14 points for West Virginia.
While three-point heroics won the game for the Knights the evening before, RU struggled from beyond the arc, finishing 1-of-9 from three-point range.
"We had a couple breakdowns and just like last night [against Georgetown] we pressed, just as we pressed last night," Rushdan said. "We made the runs … they were up by 10 and we came back. I think we did a good job of fighting."
West Virginia guard Sarah Miles did most of the damage, scoring 18 points, 13 of which came in the second half.
RU saw consistent success on offense when freshman forward Monique Oliver was on the court. Oliver's size disrupted the Mountaineers' interior defense, leading to 11 points and six rebounds for the freshman.
"I'm just going out there trying to do the best I can to help the team," Oliver said. "I'm trying to keep a cool head."
Head coach C. Vivian Stringer praised the efforts of her freshman, who played 22 minutes against the Mountaineers.
"Mo is efficient and has been offensively efficient. I'm extremely proud of her, she rebounds hard and she's the best passer on the team," Stringer said. "I'm really high on her and her enthusiasm. … She and Chelsey are the future of our Scarlet Knight team."
With the conference tournament over, the Knights await their NCAA fate, which will be decided Monday.
The two wins RU earned in Hartford — including one over the No. 12 Hoyas — should be enough to lock up a spot in the NCAA Tournament. With the loss to the Mountaineers, RU sits at 19-14 overall.
And though the Knights did not pull off their second upset in a row, the experience gained over the past three games is invaluable, Stringer said.
"It's worth its weight in gold to me," Stringer said. "Erica [Wheeler] is going to remember this and Mo [Oliver] is going to remember this in four years. The next time this happens they're going to say to [the freshmen] ‘This is what it means to be a Scarlet Knight.' I'm really proud of them and I believe it's a symptom a lot of good things to come."