Rutgers returns home to face Northwestern
The road block has been cleared.
After going nearly three months without a victory away from the Rutgers Athletic Center, the Rutgers women's basketball finally snapped its nine-game losing streak on the road with a decisive 74-62 win over Penn State in Happy Valley on Sunday.
Now the Scarlet Knights (14-10, 5-7) welcome a team with an identical record — and near identical circumstances — to the RAC Wednesday looking to continue the offensive production they provided in the win over the Nittany Lions.
Assistant coach Timothy Eatman led the Knights to victory while head coach C. Vivian Stringer took bereavement leave after the passing of her mother.
Eatman made it clear in his postgame press conference that the entire coaching staff and Rutgers roster had Stringer in their hearts and minds out at State College.
“For them to win a basketball game on the day that (Stringer) was burying her mother, I think that was a great effort from our kids,” Eatman said. “I think they fought through and showed coach that they really appreciate her and all the things she's doing for them in their lives. Not just on the basketball court but in life. Today we saw a little bit of what Rutgers basketball should be like.”
The win marked the first time since Jan. 18 the Knights had five players score in double figures, a trend that will need to continue if Rutgers wants to keep pace with the Wildcats (14-10, 3-9).
All five of Northwestern’s starters average double-digits in scoring and are headlined by Nia Coffey, who is averaging 20.3 points per game. No starter is scoring less than 13 points per contest for the Wildcats.
They are coming off a heartbreaking loss in double-overtime to Minnesota Monday, 112-106. Northwestern nearly pulled off the win in Evanston, Illinois, but with the game tied, a 3-point attempt from guard Christen Inman went begging at the sound of the final horn, sending the game to overtime.
Wildcats head coach Joe McKeown didn’t try to hide his team’s frustration after coming up on the short side against the Golden Gophers.
"We're really disappointed and we played our hearts out," McKeown told nusports.com. "Give Minnesota credit, they made a couple more plays than us in the first overtime and then in the second overtime. There were a lot of different scenarios that could've gone eight different ways."
Coffey, who scored 28 points in defeat, will present a challenge to Rutgers center Rachel Hollivay, but that’s nothing new for the senior.
Hollivay has been matched up with some of the most dominant low-post players in the conference, including Freshman of the Year candidate Jessica Shepard of Nebraska, who poured in 23 points at the RAC Jan. 30 in a game in which the Knights prevailed, 66-56.
The Columbus, Mississippi, native holds the school’s all-time record for blocked shots (300) after passing legend Sue Wicks in the loss to Minnesota in Minneapolis Feb. 4.
But for Hollivay and the rest of Rutgers roster in the 2015-1016 campaign, offense has been its achilles heel.
When it scores, it usually wins.
In their 14 wins, the Knights have posted an average of 65.3 points, but in its 10 losses, Rutgers has only managed an average of 57.7 points per game.
The home team will likely need at least 70 on the scoreboard to hang with a Wildcat team that sits fifth in the Big Ten in scoring, averaging 77.5 points per contest.
Four Northwestern players registered double-doubles in the defeat to the Gophers, with Coffey adding 12 rebounds to her point total and Maggie Lyon dropping a team-high 31 points with 12 boards of her own.
Freshman forward Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah pulled down 16 rebounds to make the Wildcats’ front court that much more formidable.
"She's an awesome rebounder,” Coffey told nusports.com. “So we definitely missed out on some opportunities with having her in the game."
The Knights will need their A-game for the first and only meeting between the two schools on the regular season schedule.
Whether Stringer will be back on the sidelines is still in question, but either way, Eatman is proud of the Rutgers roster for staying focused.
"You show you're a leader by doing the things that you are supposed to do when (Stringer) is not there," he said. "Anybody can do the right thing when the lights are on or when the person who’s in charge is right there — but when you do the right thing when the lights are off and you do the right thing when she’s not there, now you’re saying that ‘I really respect all the things that you’re doing.’”