Rutgers gets shot to redeem loss to Tigers
As demoralized as the Rutgers women’s basketball team felt after its 80-71 loss Tuesday night to No. 5 Louisville, to some degree the late collapse was expected.
The Scarlet Knights are still a young team just beginning to reestablish national prominence, while the Cardinals are a veteran program building on a 2013 national title game appearance.
For as many careless mistakes as Rutgers (15-5, 6-3) made down the stretch Tuesday, its halftime lead was not nearly as large as what the Knights held Jan. 14 at Memphis.
Rutgers botched an 11-point halftime advantage that night, ultimately falling by 1 point in overtime to a mediocre AAC team. That loss — one of two Rutgers has to unranked teams — started a stretch that has seen the Knights lose three of their last five games.
Tomorrow morning Rutgers has an opportunity to avenge that defeat when it hosts the Tigers at the Louis Brown Athletic Center. Memphis (11-10, 4-5) has since split four games, most recently topping Central Florida by 9 points at home.
Head coach C. Vivian Stringer held nothing back postgame Tuesday when stressing Rutgers’ unforced turnovers in the game’s critical stages.
“We need to address the fact that, ‘guess what? We could’ve done this and we should’ve done this, and we need to get better,’” Stringer said. “It’s as simple as that — make no excuses for it. Let’s step up and do what we know we need to do.”
Last time against Memphis, the Knights struggled to contain forwards Asianna Fuqua-Bey and Pa’Sonna Hope, who both went off for double-doubles in the Tigers’ win.
But as a whole, Memphis was significantly inefficient offensively, shooting just 36 percent from the field. Rutgers shot an impressive 54.5 percent as sophomore wing Kahleah Copper and freshman point guard Tyler Scaife each tallied more than 20 points.
Much like against Louisville, excessive turnover problems were the culprit of Rutgers’ collapse.
The Knights turned the ball over 24 times, one of their worst totals of the season. The Tigers, meanwhile, turned it over just nine times. They suffered only three second-half turnovers and none in overtime.
But one area Rutgers has improved since the two teams’ first meeting is bench production.
Players off the Knights’ bench produced 0 points in Memphis. They have tallied 54 combined over the last three games.
Sophomore guard Briyona Canty, who struggled initially in her return from last year’s early season-ending surgery, averaged 11 points during the span.
Stringer is not surprised that the former No. 6 overall high school prospect in 2011 is finally providing a spark off the bench.
“As these games come and the magnitude of these games presents itself, I’m sure that she’ll continue to be impressive,” Stringer said. “We’re going to need that hopefully if we get to the NCAAs.”
In order for Rutgers to snap out of its recent skid and build on its NCAA Tournament resume for a potential at-large bid, the Knights know they must limit turnovers.
The majority of the issues have materialized in the half-court, where Rutgers is not as effective offensively as when it can show off its athleticism in transition.
With more steady contributions developing throughout the roster, the Knights’ cohesiveness on offense is likely to improve.
“We were really excited to see that it wasn’t the starters that were out there that were holding the game together,” said junior wing Betnijah Laney postgame Tuesday. “It was really calming for us to know that it doesn’t have to always be us. We can take breaks, and we have a team that is capable of doing what everyone has to do.”