Big Ten Tournament run ends for Rutgers
For the first 20 minutes, it seemed as if the Rutgers women’s basketball team could do no wrong.
The No. 23 Scarlet Knights came out firing in the first half against No. 24 Northwestern and went into halftime with a 37-27 lead.
However, Rutgers' aspirations of advancing and making a run deep into the Big Ten Tournament was erased once the second half started.
The fourth-seeded Wildcats (23-7) exploded on a 17-2 run in the first six minutes of the second half to capture a lead they would not relinquish in an eventual 62-57 win.
The fifth-seeded Knights (22-9) broke down as the minutes ticked away in the second half, unable to get a key stop on defense or make a critical shot on offense.
One of the main reasons: foul trouble.
The big three of senior wing Betnijah Laney, junior wing Kahleah Copper and sophomore guard Tyler Scaife, sat for an extended amount of time in the second half.
Both Copper and Scaife have averaged close to 32 minutes per game this season, but each played only 28 minutes Friday.
The decreased time on the court did not deter the three from scoring, however, as they accumulated 39 of the Knights' 57 points.
But the foul trouble did have an impact on what Rutgers was trying to do defensively, according to head coach C. Vivian Stringer.
"I think, based upon the score when we were able to take switches, we were very pleased with how we were playing defense,” Stringer told reporters in the postgame press conference. “But it does create a problem when you take people and they start to get happy (on offense), that's when things changed. I like the way we played defense, and I know that it's good, but definitely with the foul situation as it was, it was difficult to sustain.”
The Knights forced 23 turnovers, but only converted them into 22 points. The scoring woes were characteristic of the entire team, as it went cold from the field down the stretch.
Rutgers shot 46 percent from the field in the first half, but managed only eight field goals on 29 percent shooting in the second half.
The Wildcats seemingly dictated the tempo of the game in the second period. According to Copper, the foul trouble disrupted the Knights' rhythm.
"They came out more aggressive, but I just tried to do other things to get my teammates involved,” Copper said.
Seven of the 10 players in Rutgers' typical rotation accumulated three or more fouls against the Wildcats.
Junior center Ariel Butts fouled out, forcing senior center Christa Evans into more playing time.
The Knights' most dependable post player, junior center Rachel Hollivay, played only three minutes due to a groin injury originally sustained on Feb. 22.
The limited depth in Rutgers' front court was exposed by the Wildcats, as they edged the Knights on the glass with a 38 to 31 rebounding advantage.
Northwestern also bullied Rutgers near the basket, scoring 34 points in the paint to the Knights' 30.
The Knights will need all of its players to be at full strength for the postseason, as they find themselves in a similar situation from last year.
Although Rutgers would have preferred to continue playing for the Big Ten title, it will have to wait over a week to find out its postseason fate.
"I really don't know,” Stringer said. “We just try and take it one game at a time, and I don't really worry about that — I don't have a clue."
For updates on the Rutgers women’s basketball team, follow @TargumSports on Twitter.