Stringer laments RU’s focus against Louisville
All things considered, it is plausible for fans of the Rutgers women’s basketball team to be pleased with the direction the program is headed.
The Scarlet Knights came into the season missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2002. They also lost four of last year’s top-six scorers and several seniors.
Now featuring no seniors, Rutgers (15-5, 6-3) is already within one win of last year’s total and proven on par with three top-16 teams in the country. Hall of Fame head coach C. Vivian Stringer is quietly dispelling notions that her time around the game has expired.
Despite the talent that has masked Rutgers’ youth this season, Stringer does not want to hear about closing the gap on the nation’s elite.
Following the team’s 80-71 loss Tuesday to No. 5 Louisville — a game Rutgers led much of the night — she was angry.
“I don’t know anything about reaching up for the most part, and so I don’t want this team to get used to reaching up,” Stringer said postgame. “... We have to be accountable and we will be responsible. That’s the only way we can get to where we have to go now — not next year or the following year.”
With a contract set to expire after the season, Stringer knows she might not be around next year. She also realizes that Rutgers is likely to return to the NCAA Tournament in March, so fixing accountability issues could lead to a deep postseason run.
Few lie with the supporting cast right now.
The Knights’ bench contributed 20 points in Tuesday’s loss, including 9 from sophomore guard Briyona Canty, who also tallied 13 on Saturday at Temple.
“I was extremely proud of the entire team, that is the people that came off the bench,” Stringer said. “They have to feel good and we feel good as a coaching staff to know that they stepped up and were able to hold their own because they played the lion’s share of the minutes.”
The second unit saw significant action against Louisville when Rutgers’ top-two scorers, wings Kahleah Copper and Betnijah Laney, sat for most of the first half with foul trouble.
Freshman point guard Tyler Scaife also stepped up, delivering a career-high 25 points as the Knights mustered a 2-point halftime lead.
But chippy play early in the opening period especially threw off Copper, who was whistled for a technical foul on her reaction to her third personal foul.
She never got going in the second half, and finished with a season-low 6 points.
“It threw me off a little bit, but I had to go to something else,” Copper said postgame. “On the bench I was just trying to cheer my team on and keep everybody up. That worked for me.”
It did not work for Stringer, who lamented Rutgers’ careless, unforced errors down the stretch. Few of the team’s 19 turnovers came from traps or pressure defense, as Louisville reaped benefits from the Knights’ lack of composure.
“Sometimes we dribbled and [the ball] just fell out of our hands,” Stringer said. “… Louisville can do a lot of things, so it was interesting that they didn’t do a lot of the things that I thought they could do or would do. We just didn’t demonstrate that we had that kind of maturity.”
As co-captains, Copper and Laney now shoulder much of the burden of instilling mental fortitude against ranked opponents.
For updates on the Rutgers women’s basketball team, follow Greg Johnson on Twitter @GregJohnsonRU. For general Rutgers sports updates, follow @TargumSports.