Knights thwart ’Cats comeback
Another 2-3 zone defense arrived at the Louis Brown Athletic Center last night, and the Rutgers women’s basketball team again struggled to play consistently in the half court.
Cincinnati employed the blueprint that has stymied the Scarlet Knights’ up-tempo offense for much of conference play.
It produced immediate results.
Wings Kahleah Copper and Betnijah Laney combined for just 3 first-half points on 1-for-10 shooting. The Knights fell into several early scoring ruts, shooting inconsistently from the perimeter as the Bearcats packed the lane.
But Rutgers kept up defensively, generating a 9-4 first-period turnover advantage and going on a 7-0 run to secure a 27-18 halftime lead. The Bearcats stayed in it with 3-pointers at critical junctures, yet the Knights (17-5, 8-3) prevailed, 58-53.
With eight seconds left in regulation, Cincinnati (9-13, 2-9) needed to add just one more 3-pointer to its game-high seven to send the game into overtime. Guard Aleysha Lovett’s contested attempt landed off the rim’s back iron, and after two more free throws with 0.4 seconds left, the Knights could relax.
“We seemed to be a step slow today for whatever reason, very sluggish and really not there,” said head coach C. Vivian Stringer. “That was not an enjoyable game, but we’ll take the win.”
Cincinnati had another chance down, 55-53, with 35 seconds left, but guard Chelsea Jamison’s pass from the top of the key sailed out of bounds over guard Jasmine Whitfield’s head in the corner.
The Bearcats repeatedly threatened to steal an upset win in Piscataway after opening the second half on an 8-0 run, but it never materialized. Cincinnati clawed within 1 point with 16:43 left and still could not take the lead down the stretch.
Rutgers answered with its own 8-0 burst, starting with an elbow jumper from Laney with 16:32 to go. She and Copper both got going in the second half, finishing with 24 total points.
“We’ve just got to come out and attack the zone,” Copper said. “We were just passing around the horn [in the first half], so once we start getting into the gaps and penetrating and kicking, then we’re going to get into the flow of our game.”
Whitfield hit two 3-pointers for Cincinnati in less than three minutes to make it 43-40 before freshman point guard Tyler Scaife sunk her own trey with 4:55 left. That gave Rutgers its largest lead of the half at 52-44.
Scaife finished with a game-high 18 points on 8-for-13 shooting, showing impressive consistency shooting from the baseline over Cincinnati’s zone.
Still, the Bearcats never relented, as their deep-shooting prowess posed a threat until the very end.
“We’re more of a transition — getting to the basket — midrange team,” Laney said. “I think that we have to do a better job of defending the 3 because we’re not answering backs with 3s. So that’s just something that we really need to work on in practice, which we will.”
Scaife catalyzed Rutgers in the first half with assertion on both ends of the floor. With 10:25 to go in the period, she stole Cincinnati’s baseline pass and started a fast-break score.
A minute later, Laney deflected a pass, stole the ball and found Scaife in the corner for another jumper in transition. Then the Little Rock, Ark., native hit a 3-pointer on the next possession to give Rutgers a 16-14 advantage.
That sequence lifted the Knights out of a five-minute scoring drought that saw Cincinnati take its only brief lead of the game at the 14:17 mark.
Still two games ahead of South Florida for third in the AAC, Rutgers presses forward knowing it narrowly escaped the RAC with the victory.
“We’re glad to get the ugly win, as a win is a win,” Stringer. “Hopefully we get back to playing at the level and pace that we should be playing.”
For updates on the Rutgers women’s basketball, follow Greg Johnson on Twitter @GregJohnsonRU. For general Rutgers sports updates, follow @TargumSports.