Late defensive stops boost RU
It was not easy, but the Rutgers women’s basketball team managed to get stops when it mattered most in its 58-50 overtime victory Saturday against Villanova. The Scarlet Knights struggled to find the right solution to tame the Wildcats, but they made the necessary adjustments late in the game.
Rutgers played from behind most of the game yet always remained within striking distance. It never gave Villanova enough room to make a run.
“They were really aggressive with us,” said Villanova forward Laura Sweeney. “They are strong and they limited us to one shot, and usually that was a tough shot we had to take.”
The Knights accelerated their defensive intensity in the closing minutes of regulation. But until then, the Wildcats had their way.
Villanova exposed the holes in Rutgers’ defense early on by knocking down uncontested shots from behind the arc, going 4-for-7 in the second half.
The Wildcats recognized the Knights were late on switches and made extra passes to open players, left alone on multiple occasions.
After going 5-for-9 in the opening half, it was evident Villanova planned to use the perimeter to its advantage. Even Villanova center Emily Leer let one fly from about 3 feet behind the 3-point line and converted.
But Rutgers applied pressure on the Wildcats as regulation ended and picked up the pace on the defensive end to take command of the game.
“We got gritty, got hungry and really stepped it up on the defensive side,” said sophomore point guard Shakena Richardson.
The Knights forced Villanova out of its philosophy as regulation ended and dominated in overtime. They held the Wildcats without a field goal in overtime, allowing them only four points from the free throw line.
In a matchup where 3-point shooting initially went well for the Wildcats, it also led to their demise. Villanova could not connect on its two attempts in overtime.
“We could not get another basket when we needed one at the end,” said Villanova head coach Harry Perretta. “We could not get a stop when we needed it. That is just the way it goes. I feel responsible because I just could not find a way to get them an easy shot in the last minute of the game.”
The Knights capped two complete victories last week. After coming from behind to steal a victory from Villanova and beating Marquette on the road, Rutgers bounced back from a tough loss Jan. 27 at rival Seton Hall.
The team did not show any ill effects from the loss in its consecutive impressive performances.
“It’s all about how you rebound,” Richardson said. “We can only go forward. We try to forget about what happened in the past and keep moving. We cannot take it back now. We just have to improve from it.”
As the season progresses, the Knights hope to block out any memories of poor outings and hope to avoid lapses.
“We did not dwell on it,” said sophomore wing Betnijah Laney. “The next day in practice we were not thinking about that. We were thinking about the upcoming game. That’s what we have to continue to do if we want to win.”
For updates on the Rutgers women’s basketball team, follow Aaron Farrar on Twitter @AFarrarTargum.