Rutgers halts four-game skid with 66-56 win over Nebraska
After 10 minutes at the Rutgers Athletic Center Saturday afternoon, the Rutgers women's basketball team appeared listless, unable to find a rhythm offensively and too slow to rotate on defense.
It seemed the Scarlet Knights were destined to prolong a crippling losing streak at their season's most crucial point.
Then head coach C. Vivian Stringer woke them up.
“You don't wanna know what I said (to the team after the first quarter),” Stringer said.
Whatever it was that the Hall of Fame head coach said, it worked.
Rutgers (13-9, 4-6) roared back on the strength of balanced scoring and suffocating defense to taste revenge against Nebraska, winning 66-56 at the RAC to snap the Knights four-game losing skid where it started.
Just two weeks prior, it was the Cornhuskers (15-6, 6-4) who rallied to win after trailing for most of the game Jan. 15 in Lincoln, sending Rutgers spiraling downward with three more consecutive losses.
This time was different.
After the Knights fell behind 20-8 to close the first quarter, they battled back to pull within one, heading to the locker room down 27-26.
Junior guard Tyler Scaife struck first in the third quarter with a jumper from the elbow to give Rutgers its first lead of the afternoon.
Four lead changes later, the Knights found themselves tied, 40-40, after three periods of play. Then they scored 25 fourth-quarter points to run away with a 10-point win.
“You know I thought today the game was going to be won by the team with the most energy,” said Nebraska head coach Connie Yori. “And I believe it was won by the team that had the most energy.”
Scaife finished with a team-high 20 points on 10-of-19 shooting after opening 0-for-3 from the field to start. Missing a few open looks early on did not dissuade the junior, who displayed her polished mid-range game, knocking down jumpers from baseline to baseline as the contest wore on.
“Well, you know I'm very confident and I get buckets,” Scaife said. “If I keep shooting, the ball is eventually gonna fall. I got into a nice rhythm and the rest was history.”
Rutgers had four players reach double figures in points to compliment Scaife and senior wing Kahleah Copper, who entered the game averaging 16.6 points per contest.
Sophomore guard Shrita Parker posted a career-high 14 points off the bench and senior guard Briyona Canty scored 11 points, dished seven assists and pulled down seven rebounds to help the backcourt generate 35 points in total.
Senior center Rachel Hollivay kept the Knights in the game with eight first half points, finishing with 12 points, seven rebounds and five blocked shots to pull within four blocks of Sue Wicks' school record (293).
“I think that (Hollivay) is generating much more confidence because she is taking balanced shots,” Stringer said postgame. “But she's exposing herself to us a lot more.”
Stingy defense allowed the the home team to force the Huskers to turn it over 20 times and had it not been for some shoddy foul shooting by Rutgers down the stretch (7-of-13 for the game), the contest may have never been close.
The Knights will look to continue the positivity on the road against Minnesota Thursday night on the road where their luck has been limited.
With eight games left on the schedule, Rutgers needs a run to get into the thick of the NCAA Tournament conversation.
In order to do that, Stringer believes her starters must execute more consistently.
"Shrita is supposed to be a big plus," Stringer said. "So I don't need any of the other — so to speak — players in this movie to take a 'B' role. They still need to step up."