March 24, 2019 | 47° F

Rutgers remains confident despite unknown NCAA fate

Photo by Tian Li |

Despite a roller coaster end to the season, senior wing Betnijah Laney and the Knights remain determined that their overall resume bodes well for their at-large NCAA Tournament hopes.

With the regular season and Big Ten Tournament over, the only one thing the Rutgers women’s basketball team can do now is wait.

The Scarlet Knights(22-9) will have to wait for a potential spot in the NCAA Tournament, a proposition that has eluded them since 2012.

After last year’s downward spiral and losing four of their last six games to end the regular season, the Knights were omitted from the tournament field by the selection committee.

The latter part of this season has seen an alarmingly similar trend. Rutgers has lost three of its last five games and stumbles into the postseason after what was over three months of strong play.

But for many players on the team, confidence in their overall body of work is abundant.

Despite their recent struggles, the Knights have evidenced their ability to adjust to a new conference with ease. In their first season in the Big Ten, Rutgers has gone 12-6 in conference play against a number of teams they were largely unfamiliar with.

Getting into the tournament after last year’s breakdown would serve as a sense of fulfillment, said many of the players.

“It would be a great accomplishment for us as a team being as we haven’t been in there since my freshman year, and it just says we are making progress,” said senior wing Betnijah Laney. “With this being my senior year, as well as Christa's (Evans) and Essy's (Syessence Davis), it will be really special for us to finish our last season in a big game.”

According to the latest bracket projections as of March 11, ESPN’s Charlie Creme has the Knights slotted as an eighth-seed heading down to Columbia, South Carolina, for their first game.

Instead of focusing on the selection show and their seeding, Rutgers has been focusing on correcting the issues in its game.

“We are excited to see where we’re going to be placed and everything — and right now we’re just working on different things we need to correct that we’ve realized from the Big Ten Tournament and regular season,” said Laney. “We are just making sure we are taking the time because we don’t know who we are playing. It’s good for us because we have time to focus on us and everything we need to do.”

Some of the problems slowing the Knights down recently have been self-induced.

Rutgers has turned the ball over an average of 13.6 times per game over the past five contests, along with shooting only 41.8 percent from the field.

The Knights' field goal percentage over the past five games is almost two percent lower than their season average of 43.7, a figure they will have to reach again if they plan on advancing in the tournament.

While its defensive pressure and knack for creating turnovers has not diminished, Rutgers' ability to cash in on those turnovers has.

The Knights forced Northwestern into 23 turnovers in its last contest, but scored only 22 points off those turnovers.

Over its past five contests, Rutgers has forced an average 18.6 turnovers per game. Despite that, the team has only scored an average of 19.6 points off of those turnovers.

For the Knights to be successful against any team, especially when trying to spring an upset, converting takeaways into points will be crucial.

“We are just focusing on being stronger and stepping it up a little bit more, and we’ve been working on the little things that contributed to the loss against Northwestern," said junior wing Kahleah Copper. “So small things like boxing out, hitting shots and not turning the ball over.”

Rutgers is hoping the little things will lead to big outcomes once the tournament starts.

Even with a slight sense of insecurity for the selection show on Monday, the Knights are confident they will make the tournament and make a name for themselves once in.

“I believe we have what it takes ... because we have a little bit of everything on our team, and we just have to remember to stay together, play together and stay as one — and just give everything we have," Laney said.

For updates on the Rutgers women’s basketball team, follow @TargumSports on Twitter.

Conor Nordland

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