Sophomore provides spark off bench for Rutgers in win over Nebraska
The Rutgers women’s basketball team returned home for its second matchup of the season against Nebraska on Saturday, and it received a better result than the first time around.
The Scarlet Knights (13-9, 4-6) saw their losing streak snapped at four games as they overcame an early 12 point deficit to comeback and defeat the Cornhuskers, 66-56.
It was the Cornhuskers (15-6, 6-4) who started the four-game slide for the Knights after beating them 65-54 on Jan. 16, and Rutgers knew it was in for a tough game in Piscataway, but came away satisfied.
“It’s always good to get off the slide,” said head coach C. Vivian Stringer. “It’s important that we stay in our mind that allows us to, if we have to, be down but to have that fight and find a way to come back.”
Senior guard Shrita Parker scored a career-high 14 points, making three shots from three-point range, including a crucial one in the fourth quarter to extend the Knights’ lead to 47-42.
She scored 13 points in last week’s loss at Ohio State, providing Rutgers with another scoring threat.
Parker’s emergence as a scoring option off the bench has aided the Knights in recent games and was a key factor in their victory over Nebraska.
“Shrita can shoot it … and we needed her to shoot it because nobody else was really hitting their shot from the outside,” Stringer said. “When you open it up, it makes us more comfortable and we can go into attack mode. Then she feels comfortable in us knowing that we always have her ability to knock down those shots from the outside.”
Rutgers shot 50 percent from the field, knocking down 27 of its 54 attempts.
It had four players score in double figures: Parker, junior guard Tyler Scaife, senior guard Briyona Canty and senior center Rachel Hollivay.
Stringer wanted to see more scoring from other players in the rotation, so she was pleased to see it against Nebraska.
“We need all our players to be at the highest levels,” Stringer said. “I was hoping we’d be able to substitute and get people to score. If we can get three more people off the bench to give us that rotation that we need, we’ll be alright.”
It was once again a slow start that befuddled Rutgers early in the game.
It trailed 20-8 after the end of the first quarter, only shooting 4-for-13 from the field, while Nebraska shot 9-for-13.
But the Knights got off to a much quicker start to begin the second period, going on an 8-0 run to cut the lead to 20-16.
Back-to-back three pointers from Parker tied the game at 22-22 with 3:32 remaining in the second quarter, sending the crowd of 2,815 at the Rutgers Athletic Center to its feet.
After Nebraska regained the lead with five straight points of their own, Scaife hit a pair of jumpers in the final minute of the half to reduce Rutgers' deficit to one, 27-26, heading into the break.
The Knights outscored Nebraska 18-7 in the second quarter to get back into the game.
Rutgers took its first lead of the game on a Scaife jumper on the first possession of the third quarter, as it went on top 28-27.
She continued to stay hot during the third period, making four of her seven shots while shooting effectively both on drives to the rim and outside jumpers.
The Knights' defensive intensity also started to pick up after the first quarter, seemingly as a result of the spark in the offense.
They gave up only 36 points for the remainder of the game, holding a team averaging 75.4 points per game to 56 points.
Canty played all 40 minutes of the game, and sensed an increase in the team’s defensive energy once the second quarter began.
“We just knew we had to play D,” Canty said. “We had to lock in, focus up. That’s really it.”
Senior center Rachel Hollivay leads the Big Ten in blocked shots this season, providing a stabilizing force inside for the Knights. She added five more blocks in this game, along with scoring 12 points and grabbing six rebounds.
Her offensive rebounds were crucial in sparking Rutgers' runs on the other end of the floor.
Her fourth block of the game with just over a minute to go sealed the victory, getting the ball back for her team.
Hollivay's teammates and coaches sense the improvement in her all-around game and are encouraging her to become more aggressive on offense.
“I think Rachel is starting to generate much more confidence because she’s taking more balanced shots,” Stringer said. “It’s good to see her hitting inside shots, but she can get better and it’s a work in progress.”
The team echoed Stringer’s sentiment, saying they believe Hollivay can be an effective scorer if she sticks with it and stays confident.
“Rachel can do it. She can score. You just gotta keep pushing her and telling her, ‘You’re good. You got it,’” Canty said.
The Knights went to a bigger lineup to start the game, pairing Hollivay with fellow senior center Ariel Butts from the outset, who finished with five rebounds.
They had to deal with talented Nebraska freshman forward Jessica Shepard, who is already an eight-time Big Ten Freshman of the Week award winner.
She dropped 23 points and grabbed four rebounds, making it her 12th game this season with at least 20 points.
But all in all, Hollivay, Butts and freshmen Victoria Harris and Desiree Keeling combined to give Rutgers a solid inside presence.
“Rutgers has the luxury of having some bigger kids. Not every team has as many big kids as Rutgers does,” said Nebraska head coach Connie Yori.