Rutgers captures crown in paradise
A trip to paradise was just what the doctor ordered for the Rutgers women's basketball team.
After beginning the season with a win at St. Joseph's, the Scarlet Knights suffered back-to-back losses to St. John's and Seton Hall.
A 61-51 victory over Temple allowed Rutgers to redeem itself after the pair of poor performances.
“We're happy to get the win,” said head coach C. Vivian Stringer after the 10-point triumph over the Owls on Nov. 22. “We're just happy to get the win. We needed it, and will need to do far better to go further if we intend to be there when it counts.”
Stringer has been adamant about her team’s need to speed the progression in the early going, but stressed patience in handling the process, even on a squad with three seniors in the starting lineup.
Now the Knights (5-2) return home from the Virgin Islands on a different kind of streak, sweeping three games from Tulane, Virginia and Green Bay to take the crown at the Paradise Jam in St. Thomas over Thanksgiving break, Nov. 26-28.
In the tournament's opening game, leading-scorer Kahleah Copper shook the rust off a three-game shooting slump.
The senior wing poured in 28 points on 11-for-17 shooting from the field and grabbed seven rebounds to pace the Knights in a dominant 75-51 win over the Green Wave.
Junior guard Tyler Scaife chipped in 11 points on an efficient 5-of-8 from the floor while Rutgers' defense stifled Tulane on 31.7 percent shooting from the field.
The toughest game of the tournament for the Knights came in game two against Virginia, where the Cavaliers trailed by only a bucket when Rutgers took a 29-27 lead into the locker room at halftime.
Lauren Moses kept it close through the third quarter, finishing with 18 points to go with seven boards, putting UVA within five points at 42-37 after three periods of play.
But in the fourth, the Knights poured it on, outscoring Virginia, 18-11, to pull away with a 60-48 victory. Copper shined again, dropping 21 points on 58.3 percent shooting while pulling down eight more rebounds.
Scaife paced the run to the title with 17 points and four assists against Green Bay in the finale of the Paradise Jam to give Rutgers a clean sweep of the tourney after a 54-43 win over the Phoenix.
The Knights shook themselves after trailing 13-7 at the conclusion of the opening quarter, going on to outscore Green Bay, 47-30, the rest of the way.
Copper stayed hot, scoring 20 more points and grabbing another eight boards on her way to being named the tournament's Most Valuable Player.
The Philadelphia native averaged 23 points and eight rebounds over the course of the three-game sweep of the competition in St. Thomas, coming away with the Paradise Jam crown.
Scaife was named to the All-Tournament team after averaging 11.3 points and 3.3 assists over the course of the three contests. The Little Rock, Arkansas, native continued her unconscious shooting from the free throw line this season, finishing a perfect 8-for-8 in paradise.
Scaife is shooting 95.7 percent (22-of-23) from the charity stripe through seven games in her junior season after shooting 72 percent from the line as a sophomore.
Her team also improved its shooting from beyond the arc, another facet of the game that Stringer was harping on after the win over Temple.
“Think about it,” Stringer suggested to reporters in the media center at the RAC. “We were the lowest team in the country on the 3-point shot. That's better. We shot 6-for-12. How about that?”
An uptick in perimeter shooting continued in St.Thomas, finishing at 44.8 percent in the three-game set.
Rutgers will attempt to remain in a rhythm as the Knights ride their four-game win streak to Tallahassee on Thursday to take on No. 13 Florida State.
This will be the biggest test of the young season for Rutgers and it is unclear if they'll be ready to clash with the big teams at this point.
Stringer stressed the importance of getting Copper back on track after she struggled to low shooting percentages against St. John’s and Temple.
Clearly, the senior responded.
“That has been a missing piece and we are working, making a conscious effort, to get (Copper) the ball much more,” Stringer said.
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