UConn routs Rutgers again with Copper hurt
STORRS, Conn. — As the game clock ticked away Saturday, the only meaningful question was if the Rutgers women’s basketball team was going to lose by more than last time against No. 1 Connecticut.
Without leading scorer Kahleah Copper, who unexpectedly missed her first game of the season with turf toe, the Scarlet Knights had no answers. Offensively they lacked fluidity and aggression. Defensively their 2-3 zone was carved to shreds.
In front of 10,167 at Gampel Pavilion, No. 24 Rutgers never had a chance.
With a seemingly effortless 72-35 win, the undefeated, defending national champion Huskies (30-0, 17-0) offered another eerie reminder of their supreme dominance.
“I really don’t see anyone that’s seriously going to challenge them,” said head coach C. Vivian Stringer postgame. “I give all credit to UConn. There are no other teams that are so well-organized and play with that extreme precision and skill level.”
Although the Knights (21-7, 12-5) played better transition defense than in their 30-point home loss to UConn on Jan. 19, their main issues this time lied in the half court.
The Huskies swung Rutgers’ zone like a pendulum with quick chest passes across the perimeter and top of the key.
Forward Breanna Stewart and guard Bria Hartley finished with 20 points apiece to outscore Rutgers by themselves.
They paved an all too familiar fast start.
Stewart converted a layup, 3-pointer and another 2-point jumper to spark a 9-0 run three minutes in. Hartley sunk a second straight trey with 9:40 to go in the first half to give UConn a 26-8 lead.
Then the game got away from Rutgers.
As more Knights tried to help up top, more open looks came for UConn underneath. Center Stefanie Dolson, who became the fifth Husky to compile 1,000 rebounds for a career, added 6 points and 10 boards.
Eight UConn players scored on the day as Rutgers simply could not cover enough ground.
“It’s a challenging task [defensively]. That’s where you have to communicate, and I don’t think that we did a good job of that,” said junior wing Betnijah Laney. “There were too many times where we weren’t locating the shooters or they were just getting open layups.”
Offensively the Knights produced season lows of 35 points — their previous worst was 58 — on 25.8-percent shooting. Laney was the team’s only double-figure scorer with 14.
While UConn unselfishly distributed the ball several times per possession, Rutgers never established a rhythm. The Knights were stagnant moving without the ball and excessively settled for contested jumpers.
They converted just two layups in the first half and did not even attempt a free throw until the second period.
“You’ve got to get good shots. That’s the name of the game — period, and we just didn’t have it,” Stringer said. “Nothing was right. ... We just weren’t in sync. I’m not saying that UConn wasn’t the creator of that at all. I’m just saying that those things are a fact. We were just chugging along, we were struggling quite a bit.”
Tyler Scaife’s off day did not help.
The freshman guard shot a porous 4-for-16 from the field and dished no assists. With Copper sidelined, Scaife often tried to make something happen dribbling around screens as Rutgers’ primary ballhandler.
She scored nothing in the second half as Hartley denied Scaife the ball with tight man defense.
“We all bring something different to the table, and [Copper is] our biggest driver,” Laney said. “She attacks very well, and so we didn’t really have that. It caused us to have to look for different things.”
UConn is now 8-0 against ranked teams, winning those games by an average of 21 points. Dating back to last season, the Huskies have won 36 consecutive games.
Stringer said one would be hard-pressed to think of a better team in UConn history, which includes eight national championships.
Connecticut head coach Geno Auriemma is not ready to go that far.
“I think this team is pretty darn good,” Auriemma said. “If we finish this season undefeated and we win a national championship, I might change my mind [on this team not being the best]. But right now they’ve got some work to do.”
The same can be said for Rutgers, which hosts South Florida tonight with this weekend’s AAC Tournament 3-seed at stake. Stringer said she expects Copper to play.
Unless UConn falls tonight at No. 3 Louisville, in which case a coin flip would determine the 1-seed, the winner in Piscataway ensures avoiding the Huskies until the tournament finals.
For updates on the Rutgers women’s basketball team, follow Greg Johnson on Twitter @GregJohnsonRU. For general Rutgers sports updates, follow @TargumSports.