Early foul trouble costs Rutgers
Not long into the Rutgers women’s basketball team’s pursuit of a second win against a ranked team last night, arguably the two most important variables were forced to sit and watch.
With 14:04 left in the first half, junior wing Betnijah Laney picked up her second foul.
Sophomore wing Kahleah Copper collected her third at the 13:18 mark, and the Scarlet Knights’ season-leading scorers went to the bench with foul trouble for the remainder of the period.
Freshman guard Tyler Scaife willed Rutgers to an early lead against No. 5 Louisville with 25 total points, but the upset dreams soon faded.
The Cardinals’ offense came alive in the second half following a 38-36 halftime deficit and Louisville survived, 80-71, at the Louis Brown Athletic Center.
“This is one of those sad ones,” said head coach C. Vivian Stringer. “It’s more sad than Connecticut, because I think that it was truly within the realm of possibility easily. It could’ve been done.”
The Knights (15-5, 6-3) collapsed late, committing 12 second-half turnovers with errant dribbling and poor passes.
Louisville (21-1, 9-0) seized momentum midway through the period, going on an 11-0 run down by five with 10:09 left. Guard Shoni Schimmel knocked down two big 3-pointers en route to a team-leading 24 points.
Rutgers hung around, clawing back within 3 with 4:53 left, but the Cardinals never relinquished control.
Scaife landed a critical travel call with 2:25 left down, 70-65. Laney uncharacteristically coughed the ball up with eight minutes remaining. Copper fumbled a pass out of bounds in the paint with 18 minutes to go.
Louisville finished with decided 28-12 and 18-8 respective advantages in points off turnovers and second-chance points.
“We could’ve let it flow much better in the second half, and we didn’t. I was disappointed with what we call unforced errors,” Stringer said. “If a team is forcing errors, that’s one thing. But that wasn’t happening. ... We just basically imploded.”
What hurt Rutgers the most was the fact Copper and Laney could not find any rhythm offensively following their early first-half departures.
Copper, a 60 percent shooter on the season, made just 1-for-6 from the field. Laney, who has 10 double-doubles, finished with just 8 points and five rebounds.
The 20 bench points from a second unit that struggled recently were left in vein.
“It was very frustrating for us because we had the lead coming out [of halftime], and our game plan was to expand our lead,” Laney said. “When it didn’t happen and we began to go backwards, it was frustrating for us.”
Copper admitted her frustration following her third foul disrupted her flow.
Many of the 1,733 fans in attendance pled for a jump ball. Instead Copper was assessed with a technical after she jumped up and down in frustration.
“It wasn’t anything towards the ref,” Copper said. “It was more myself because I knew I went directly for the ball, and I just reacted with my emotions.”
For all the late blunders, a Rutgers team with no seniors still proved capable of competing with three top-16 teams in the country.
But Stringer wants more.
“I have every confidence that this team is capable of carrying itself amongst the very best — amongst the elite,” Stringer said. “So I don’t want them to feel like, ‘wow, that was a moral victory.’ Scarlet Knights do not think like that.”