Rutgers defense holds Arkansas to 25 percent shooting in 60-40 win
In a complete role reversal, the Rutgers women’s basketball team played the part of the bully in the Scarlet Knights 60-40 win over Arkansas on Sunday afternoon.
After being pushed around by No. 13 Florida State in Tallahassee, losing 65-43 last Thursday, Rutgers (6-2) redeemed itself at home against the Razorbacks (2-6), setting the tone with a 33-20 lead at halftime.
From there, the Knights cruised to a 20-point win on the strength of impressive performances from a pair of starters, junior guard Tyler Scaife and senior wing Kahleah Copper.
Scaife scored 24 points and added two rebounds with an assist in the second meeting against the team from her home state.
It would be easy to assume the Little Rock native would come to play with a little extra juice after saying she had circled the Arkansas game on the calendar before the season began.
But Scaife insisted in the postgame press conference that this game was no different from any other on the schedule — she was just knocking down shots.
“The ball just dropped today,” she said. “I shot a pretty good percentage today. I didn’t really have the game circled. It was just another game, honestly.”
Scaife started fast, finishing 5-of-7 after two quarters with 12 points, as the Knights went into the locker room with a 13-point advantage.
The second half looked similar to the first, with Rutgers jumping out to a 17-point lead after a 6-0 run put the Knights up 39-22 at the 5:31 mark of the third quarter.
Rutgers reapplied its trademark, suffocating defensive style of play on Sunday, holding the Hogs to just 25 percent shooting from the field and 2-of-8 from the 3-point line. The Knights forced Arkansas to turn the ball over 11 times, including three shot clock violations.
The effort on the defensive end of the court pleased head coach C. Vivian Stringer, who has cautioned early in the season that progression is a process, with every day an opportunity to improve upon mistakes made yesterday.
Stringer stressed that a lot of things can be achieved on the court, but you must play defense first.
“Every little thing, every thing that they’re maybe too slow on or reacting to, then I’m on it,” Stringer said. “They’re used to being highly critical, and that’s okay, because we know that the one thing you can consistently count on is defense.”
Copper rebounded from a poor performance in her last time on the floor against the Seminoles, where the senior wing managed only nine points on 3-of-9 shooting from the floor.
The Philadelphia native found her shot back at the Louis Brown Athletic Center, pouring in 18 points on 8-of-13 shooting and pulling down six rebounds to compliment Scaife’s mission to bring mayhem to the Arkansas defense.
Copper attributed her production to getting involved on the glass and in transition.
“I missed the first shot (I took), so I just went to the boards,” Copper said. “(I) started getting rebounds and started getting out in transition, running the floor hard. I think when I run the floor hard the guards always reward me, so rebounds and transition got me goin’.”
While Copper was running the floor and crashing the boards, Scaife was spotting up.
The junior hit 10-of-14 from the field, including a perfect 4-for-4 from the free throw line to improve her nearly impeccable percentage from the charity stripe to 96.6 percent on the season.
“In the summertime I used to do this workout where I would get like, a lot of shots up in like a minute,” Scaife said. “And then right after, I gotta make like eight free throws or nine free throws within a minute. And I felt like, over time, as I kept doing it, it just helped improve my free throw percentage. So now I’m knocking down free throws.”
Rutgers will turn its attention to a matchup with Iona on Wednesday at home, the second of a five-game homestand for the Knights at the RAC.
Whether Scaife and Copper are in a shooting rhythm or not against the Tigers, Stringer knows that if Rutgers can continue to apply the pressure on defense, everything else should fall into place.
“Your shot might not be falling,” the winningest head coach in program history said. “But it can be the defense. So we have been working hard at that and we will continue.”
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