Knights set season highs in blowout
For as soundly as Kahleah Copper and Tyler Scaife electrified the Louis Brown Athletic Center with a combined 44 points, nine rebounds and six assists, their loudest ovations Saturday came when they exited the game.
The 2,683 fans in attendance roared as the sophomore forward and freshman point guard went to the bench with 9:13 to play — a Rutgers women’s basketball team victory well in hand.
Seven other Scarlet Knights scored as Rutgers romped Central Florida, 90-50, for its most lopsided win of the season in the annual “Play 4 Kay” game supporting breast cancer awareness.
Rutgers (20-5, 11-3) reached 90 points for the first time in three seasons, also recording season bests of 23 assists and only six turnovers.
“It was nice to see the way the ball moved and the way the points were scored,” said head coach C. Vivian Stringer postgame. “Everybody was really sharing the ball, and it makes it fun when that happens.”
Rutgers effectively shifted UCF’s (10-15, 3-11) zone defense with several passes per possession. That exploited holes near the basket and led to a season-high 60-percent shooting from the field.
Coming out of halftime with a 39-26 lead, Rutgers relentlessly pushed the ball in transition, opening the period on a 17-2 run in less than five minutes.
In a four-second span, Scaife swiped UCF guard Zykira Lewis’ errant pass at midcourt, pushed down the floor and fed junior guard Syessence Davis a no-look, one-handed pass for a layup in traffic.
That extended the lead to 56-28 with 15:12 left.
Over the next nine minutes, Rutgers pulled ahead by as many as 41 points. The team finished with overwhelming advantages in points off turnovers (38-6) and fast breaks (30-2).
Rutgers shot a staggering 68.6 percent in the second half as three Scarlet Knights finished with at least five assists.
“We were just looking to share the ball and play the defense that Coach Stringer wanted us to play,” Copper said. “I’m just happy that we let it flow and just ran [in transition].”
Rutgers’ defense thrived on trapping UCF at the perimeter, generating numerous deflections and steals. UCF coughed up 22 turnovers and collected just 26 points in the paint.
Rutgers, meanwhile, looked as in sync offensively as it has all season, committing less than 10 turnovers for only the second time this year — it surrendered eight Dec. 8.
Davis had five assists, four steals and only one turnover.
“For us not to have so many turnovers actually was a big [emphasis] that we always do every game,” Davis said. “We don’t want to get more turnovers than we have assists, and we always try to keep them lower than 10.”
After struggling to distance itself early, trailing by as many as 6 points with 8:02 left in the first half, Rutgers entered halftime on a 20-7 run. Scaife sparked the turning point with 8 of her team-high 12 points in the period.
For the 14th time in Stringer’s 19 seasons, Rutgers reached the 20-win plateau. Still four regular season games remain. The won 16 games all of last year.
Stringer, who often stresses that Rutgers cannot settle and must continue to mature in order to return to being one of the nation’s elite, acknowledged the team is in a “good place.”
“It’s just this team being consistent with what the vast majority of [Rutgers] teams have done over the years,” Stringer said of reaching 20 wins. “I think that it was an anomaly the last year or two. It almost looked like a figment of my imagination — and not in a good way.”
For updates on the Rutgers women’s basketball team, follow Greg Johnson on Twitter @GregJohnsonRU. For general Rutgers sports updates, follow @TargumSports.