Defense, pair of double-doubles drive Rutgers to 8th straight win at RAC
The Rutgers women’s basketball team returned home to the Louis Brown Athletic Center on Wednesday night in search of some home cooking to avenge a road defeat against Ohio State in their previous game.
The Scarlet Knights (12-5, 3-2) were able to do just that by throttling a reeling Illinois squad, defeating the Illini by a score of 67-54. It was the eight-straight victory at the RAC for the Knights, while they handed Illinois (7-9, 0-5) their eight straight loss.
The Knights were led by junior guard Tyler Scaife, who was sizzling all night and finished with 27 points on 11-for-14 shooting from the field.They got off to a quick start, finishing the first quarter with a 22-9 lead in which they controlled both ends of the floor.
The Knights now hold a 205-134 over their opponents in the first quarter in games they have won this season. It was important for them to get off to a quick start against a team that has been struggling, and they seized the opportunity by asserting themselves with a fast style of play.
In total, they finished the opening period by shooting 9-for-12 from the field. Rutgers continued with their offensive firepower into the second quarter, taking a 38-26 lead going into halftime.
They shot 16-for-29 from the field in the first half, a 55.2 percent clip. Scaife made six of her seven shot attempts in the half, pacing the Knights with 14 points.
In the second half, she shot 5-for-7, including 2-for-3 from 3-point range, scoring 13 more points to give her a total of 27 on the night. It seemed to be one of those nights where the shots were just falling, and Scaife gave the Knights consistent scoring through both halves of this conference matchup.
“Bri (Canty), (Rachel) Hollivay, and Kahleah (Copper), everyone has been finding me in my spots and I’ve been making my shots.” Scaife said.
Senior wing Kahleah Copper made some history in the game and continued to provide scoring and rebounding for the Knights. By finishing with 15 points, she moved up to ninth place on the school’s all-time scoring list, passing former Rutgers standout and current WNBA All-Star Epiphany Prince.
The Preseason All-Big Ten wing added 11 rebounds to finish with her seventh double-double of the season, and the fourth in her last five games. Though she shot just 5-for-16 in the game, her poise and crashing of the boards on both ends has given the Knights a spark the whole season, and has led to an improvement in her all-around game.
She has spoken throughout the season about the importance of helping the post players on the boards, and along with Scaife, who also added five rebounds, the Knights have been seeing more success garnering rebounds lately.
“Coach made a great point to us in practice one day about owning two things, and I noticed that I didn’t own two things, so I took that information in and tried to convert it into my game,” she said. “I knew I could score, so I’ve tried to be more consistent on the rebounding side of things.”
With the focus always on the team concept for the Knights, they do not usually emphasize individual accolades. Passing Prince on the scoring list is a notable accomplishment for Copper, as she adds another layer to her great career on the Banks.
“That’s awesome…she was a great player,” she said. “I wasn’t sure about that, but that’s interesting.”
Freshman center Victoria Harris earned her first career start in the contest, and provided an immediate spark by scoring four points in the first two minutes of the game.
She would continue to play some big minutes and finished with six points on 3-for-5 shooting from the field, while adding a pair of rebounds.
Her plus/minus of 22 was the best of any Rutgers player on the night, and she gave the team a solid presence on both ends of the floor during her 22 minutes.
Freshman guard Khadaizha Sanders also played 11 minutes in the game, gaining a pair of offensive rebounds and dishing out an assist.
Harris started in place of senior Ariel Butts and helped to form an aggressive duo in the post along with Hollivay, who recorded a double-double with 14 points and 14 rebounds. The Knights led, or was tied, for all 40 minutes of the game, with much of their success coming from the newcomer and the veteran getting rebounds and creating fast scoring chances.
They also got off to quick starts defensively and held Illinois’ frontcourt duo of Chatrice White and Alex Wittinger for a combined 18 points on 7-for-18 shooting. Hollivay noticed the defensive intensity and said it led to more efficiency on the offensive end of the floor.
“It made me want be more active, since I was active on defense I needed to show it on offense, as well,” Hollivay said.
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