Second-half surge fades as No. 16 Rutgers drops second straight Big Ten contest
When she arrived to the media room after Sunday's game, C. Vivian Stringer was brutally honest about where her team stands.
“We’re not good enough right now,” she said. “It’s as simple as that.”
The Rutgers women’s basketball team's head coach didn’t shy away from expressing her feelings following a 79-72 loss to No. 20 Iowa.
“We had a great opportunity. It was at home. There’s nothing to say,” Stringer continued. “What’s missing is that we’re not scoring enough and we’re not defending enough. It’s as simple as that.”
The No. 16 Scarlet Knights (10-4, 1-2) knew they needed to be better in this one. After a deflating 85-68 shellacking at Ohio State, they regrouped for what Stringer said was their sharpest performance in their past four games.
But as good as it was, it wasn’t good enough.
Rutgers, which thrives off its athleticism to induce suffocating defense and produce quick transition buckets, found itself off to an odd start.
From the opening tip, Stringer implemented her signature ‘55’ full court press, addressing the lack of fire in her team’s defense in recent games and hoping to kick off the game with violent change of pace.
But Lisa Bluder had her team prepared.
The 15th-year Iowa head coach, who Stringer knows well with her ties to the program she brought to the Final Four decades ago, had her players keenly slicing through the holes of the tight press, mostly leading to easy layups on the other end.
Then, the Hawkeyes began to get the most dangerous aspect of their game going.
As much as Rutgers tried to answer and capture the momentum back throughout the course of the game, it seemed as if Iowa always had a stronger answer.
After three consecutive three-point field goals put the Hawkeyes up eight in the first half, the Knights went back and forth before heading into the locker room on a 7-4 run and cutting the deficit to four.
As the Knights began to run the floor when the second half got underway, senior wing Betnijah Laney pushed the ball up to Rachel Hollivay who hit the lay-in, drew the foul from a defender flying in from behind and converted the free throw for a three-point play.
The junior center pounded her chest as the Louis Brown Athletic Center erupted. Rutgers had recaptured the lead, 40-38, for the first time since the 14:02 mark in the first half.
But that energy left the building as quickly as it entered.
Iowa came right back on the other end with back-to-back three-pointers to quiet the crowd. It was almost a never-ending cycle for the Knights, unable to find a way to slow the Hawkeyes down.
Led by Melissa Dixon’s 21 points on 6-of-10 shooting behind the arc, Iowa torched Rutgers. The Hawkeyes combined to shoot 45.5 percent from three-point land, draining 10 three-balls – most of which came at critical times to take the wind out of the Knights’ sails.
“It was very quick, you know, because we talked about it every time out like, ‘We gotta get stops, we gotta get stops right now, we can’t exchange baskets,’” said Laney, who collected nine points and 13 rebounds in the loss. “You can’t exchange threes with twos and expect to come out with the game because you can’t win.”
Junior wing Kahleah Copper, who had a game-high 22 points to pace Rutgers and was complemented by sophomore guard Tyler Scaife’s 20 points, voiced her frustrations of putting points on the board without being able to cut into Iowa’s lead.
“It wasn’t really deflating, but it was definitely frustrating because we were not trying to exchange baskets at the time,” Copper said. “We were trying to get ours and take theirs and then come back and get ours. So it was frustrating and we were just hoping to just score and get a stop.”
As much as the loss may leave a bitter taste, Laney added to Stringer’s sentiments about how the team played its best basketball in four games.
“Whether we lose or not, we’re not gonna back down from anybody,” she said. “We know that we gotta keep pushing forward and we just gotta come together and key in on things that are taking us down. And when we do that … I think we’re gonna bounce back.”
For updates on the Rutgers women’s basketball team, follow @GarrettStepien and @TargumSports on Twitter.