Rutgers returns home with satisfying 60-40 win over Arkansas
It felt good for the Rutgers women’s basketball team to return home to play at the Louis Brown Athletic Center.
After playing four straight road games, including three in the U.S. Virgin Islands where they won the Paradise Jam Tournament, the Scarlet Knights (6-3) returned home on Sunday afternoon to take on Arkansas (2-6).
The Knights bounced back from their 65-43 defeat on the road against No. 13 Florida State by taking advantage of their home floor and beating the Razorbacks handily by a score of 60-40.
In the last five years, Rutgers is now 66-14 at the RAC, good for a .825 winning percentage.
Junior guard Tyler Scaife led the Knights with 24 points, shooting 10-for-14 in the game against the SEC school from her home state.
She was flanked by Paradise Jam Most Valuable Player Kahleah Copper, as the senior wing added 18 points while shooting 8-for-13 from the field.
The Knights were glad to return home in front of their fans, and it gave them a boost that helped propel them to a smooth victory.
“It’s always nice to play at home,” said head coach C. Vivian Stringer. “It’s more familiar and there’s a lot less traveling. Any team is always happy to play at home within the confines of what’s comfortable.”
The win marks the start of a five-game home stand for Rutgers, which will feature another SEC opponent, LSU, and conclude with the Big Ten opener against Minnesota.
It is an important stretch for the Knights, who will look to get back to the winning basketball they played in the Paradise Jam Tournament over the course of the home stand.
“We’ve had a lot of games within a short period of time and haven’t had quite enough time to make corrections on some things, but we promised ourselves that we’re going to get better in a lot of things,” Stringer said.
The first quarter has been both a trouble spot and bright area for the Knights this season.
In games they have lost, they have been outscored 58-24 in the first quarter.
However, in the games they have won, they have outscored their opponents 80-60.
On Sunday, it fell into the latter category for Rutgers. They came out and shot efficiently from the field while stymieing Razorbacks offense.
The Knights were able to capitalize on a sluggish start from the Razorbacks, and jumped out to a 12-7 lead by the end of the first quarter.
Rutgers shot 4-for-8 from the field in the opening period, and was led by Scaife, who made three of her four shots in the quarter.
It also held the Razorbacks to 3-for-14 shooting in the quarter, getting off to the quick start on both sides of the ball that they were searching for.
Arkansas came into the game reeling, entering the non-conference battle on a five-game losing streak.
After the first quarter, the Knights went rolling and dominated the Razorbacks in the second quarter, outscoring them 21-13 to take a 33-20 into the halftime intermission.
Rutgers shot 15-for-23 as a team in the first half, while holding Arkansas to 7-for-25 from the field.
Copper and Scaife each shot 5-for-7 from the field in the first half, with the latter leading the team with 12 points going into the break.
The Knights also only had eight fouls going into halftime, while they had eight in the first quarter alone in their loss against Florida State.
The quick start enabled them to gain confidence on both ends of the floor and they felt it started on the defensive end.
“One thing we feel that we can always count on is defense,” Stringer said. “The shots might not be falling, but it can be the defense that’s there for us.”
Copper finished with six rebounds and was effective scaling the floor for transition baskets.
She has talked all season about getting off to quick starts and hitting the glass, and was able to succeed in both on Sunday, proving again to be a pivotal cog in a Rutgers victory.
“I started getting to the boards and getting in transition, running the floor hard,” Copper said. “When I run the floor hard, the guards always reward me. Rebounds and transition got me going today.”
Prior to the game, Stringer was honored for becoming the Rutgers all-time wins leader for men’s or women’s basketball.
She earned the milestone with a 75-51 victory over Tulane in the Paradise Jam Tournament, giving her the 435th win of her career and the top spot on the school’s wins list, passing Theresa Grentz.
Following the win over Arkansas, Stringer’s win total at Rutgers was pushed to 438 and 958 wins overall in her coaching career.
As she stood at center court with new Director of Athletics Patrick Hobbs, she watched a video on the big screen at the RAC which displayed many greetings from notable former players, like Cappie Pondexter and Essence Carson.
She was not expecting the ceremony.
The Knights were also honoring Scaife for scoring 1,000 points in her career, which Stringer thought was the only planned celebration.
“First of all, I was totally shocked [with the ceremony],” she said. “I thought we were just going to half court to honor Tyler, and I had no idea … I always love seeing the former players and they were all special.”
Senior center Rachel Hollivay added six points and six rebounds in the win, giving Rutgers a solid inside presence in a game heavily dominated by guards and wings.
She had a key play towards the end of the first quarter where she blocked Arkansas’ Jordan Danberry, and she then launched a pass to Scaife down court for a layup to give the Knights a 10-7 lead.
That play was indicative of the aggressive style Stringer has preached to her players over the years, turning defense into offense.
It was especially fitting on a day in which her coach was honored, and the team won by 20 points.
“For the past few days, we’ve been having really tough practices and playing hard, especially on defense,” Hollivay said. “I’ve put it in my head and my heart that I need to play really good defense, get blocks and get us in transition so that we can get started.”
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