Knights rout Tigers in rematch at RAC
Betnijah Laney often stresses in postgame interviews how quickly the Rutgers women’s basketball team moves on from one game and looks forward to the next.
Yet the junior wing never forgot how the Scarlet Knights felt Jan. 14 when Memphis erased Rutgers’ 11-point second-half lead en route to a 74-73 overtime upset win in Tennessee.
After Rutgers’ 66-48 rout in a rematch Saturday at the Louis Brown Athletic Center, Laney admitted there was a sense of avengement.
“We were definitely looking to redeem ourselves,” she said. “We lost the last time we played them by 1 point, and we really felt as though we shouldn’t have because we didn’t follow our game plan when we were there, so that was just a major point for us.”
The Knights (16-5, 7-3) received an early wake-up call.
Memphis (11-11, 4-6) knocked down two 3-pointers to start the game, racing to a 10-0 lead in less than three minutes.
Then Rutgers picked up its pace offensively, spreading the ball around the perimeter and aggressively attacking the basket. Three Knights finished with at least five assists, including Laney, who tallied 11 points and 10 rebounds for her 11th double-double of the season.
“We were not anywhere near as stagnant as we were when we found ourselves in the situation with Louisville,” said head coach C. Vivian Stringer. “They did a great job of seeing each other, and that’s going to be crucial — the turnovers, the rebounds and sharing the ball.”
After holding a 10-point halftime advantage, Rutgers went on a 15-4 run a few minutes into the second period to pull away.
Memphis never adjusted to the Knights’ tenacious 2-3 zone defense, which Stringer employed from the outset in light of recent foul trouble issues playing man-to-man.
Center Asianna Fuqua-Bey and forward Pa’Sonna Hope, who each knotted double-doubles Jan. 14, were held to 3-for-9 shooting.
The Tigers matched a season-low 48 points and committed 21 turnovers — 12 more than their first meeting with Rutgers, which the Knights cashed into 25 points.
Sophomore forward Rachel Hollivay benefitted the most down the stretch, leading Rutgers with 12 points and seven rebounds in the second half. She finished with a team-high 16 points, her most since Nov. 22 against Howard.
An early revelation, the 6-foot-4 Hollivay’s production has been sporadic this season. Stringer correlated it to Hollivay’s inconsistent wearing of contact lenses.
“No matter what, she must wear the contacts,” Stringer said. “Sometimes she does, sometimes she doesn’t, so it couldn’t get any worse. But today it was Betnijah who was saying, ‘Rachel wore the contacts and Rachel is catching the ball.’ … I can tell you that from now on, she’s not even practicing if she doesn’t have those contacts in.”
Rutgers again had steady contributions across the board, producing double-digit points off the bench for the third straight game.
Sophomore guard Briyona Canty looked as explosive as she has all season since redshirting nearly all of last year following knee surgery. She corralled hustle rebounds at critical points in the first half and opened up Rutgers’ offensive game with assertive dribble penetration.
“I feel, I guess you could say, ‘free’ now,” Canty said. “Last year I was in pain, a lot of pain, playing. But this is not as much pain and I’m pushing through it. So it’s just a free feeling that you get and you’re happy on the court.”
All the Knights smiled as they dominated even with sophomore wing Kahleah Copper held to a season-low 2 points while battling a mild leg injury. Rutgers also did not attempt a single 3-pointer.
After what had transpired Jan. 14 in Tennessee, the Knights knew they had to finish strong.
“It was good for us to see [Memphis’ 10-0 run] in the beginning, rather than the end,” Laney said. “And to know that we are able to pick up intensity, and able to fight back and overcome our adversities. That’s what we did.”
For updates on the Rutgers women’s basketball team, follow Greg Johnson on Twitter @GregJohnsonRU. For general Rutgers sports updates, follow @TargumSports.