Rutgers road woes continue in 85-72 loss at Minnesota
When the Rutgers women’s basketball team is playing at the Rutgers Athletic Center, it seems to feed off the friendly confines, with the crowd’s cheers kindling a fire beneath the Scarlet Knights (13-10, 4-7) on their home floor.
But just as quickly as the Knights heat up at home, they have shown a propensity to freeze up on the road.
Rutgers averages less than 60 points per game on the road this season, aiding in the Knights landing spot toward the bottom of the Big Ten in offense.
“When we’re on the road, we have to really stick together and just come to play,” said senior wing Kahleah Copper after the Rutgers win at home over Nebraska Jan. 30. “We’ve been loose and I thought this win felt really big for us. It was like a sigh of relief.”
For whatever reason, that sigh turns to labored breathing away from home.
The latest example came at Minnesota (15-7, 7-4) Thursday night, with the Golden Gophers winning 85-71. Copper scored 31 points and pulled down nine rebounds, but it wasn’t enough to topple the same team that Rutgers beat 66-55, on New Year’s Eve in the Big Ten Conference opener at the RAC.
Minnesota guard Rachel Banham scored 24 points on her home floor with backcourt buddy Carlie Wagner pouring in 22 points in a contest in which Rutgers played without their Hall of Fame head coach C. Vivian Stringer, who is on bereavement leave after losing her mother.
Stringer reached out to the University community upon announcing her decision to take time away from the team to tend to her family.
“I would like to thank the many friends, fans and members of the Rutgers Athletics community who have reached out with sympathy and support during these past difficult weeks,” Stringer said. “The members of this Rutgers team and staff have been incredible sources of strength and encouragement throughout my mother’s illness. While it is difficult to leave my basketball family again, I know that these ladies are up to challenges that await them on the court.”
Assistant coach Tim Eatman returns to the role of interim head coach for the foreseeable future, until Stringer feels ready to return.
Eatman was at the helm for the Knights earlier in the season when Stringer left the team to be with her mother and family.
There was some positivity for the Knights to glean when leaving the North Star State.
Senior center Rachel Hollivay continued to display her distinguished defense posting five blocks to go with six rebounds and 3 points.
Hollivay’s fourth rejection of the contest made her the school’s all-time record-holder in blocked shots. Now with 295, she surpassed Sue Wicks, who had 293 career rejections.
Despite falling to 1-8 on the road this season, there are still opportunities for the team from the Banks to return to relevancy in the NCAA Tournament discussion.
But Rutgers’ players have no time to hang their heads.
A trip to Happy Valley to take on Penn State could be construed as more than winnable if not considering the Knights road woes.
The Nittany Lions (8-14, 3-8) are six games under .500 in the 2015-2016 campaign and stand 1-5 at home in conference games, giving up an overall average of 74 points per game, according to the league's website.
PSU is coming off a 87-69 blowout loss at Nebraska with the Cornhuskers rebounding quickly from their defeat in the Garden State.
The conditions could be right for Rutgers to stage a reversal of their recent fortune on the road, but to take that step, the Knights will need to shut down a pair of Penn State scoring threats in Teniya Page and Brianna Banks.
Page leads the Lions with 15.8 points per game, shooting an even 42 percent from the field and 42.1 percent from 3-point range.
Banks pours in 14 points per game while power forward Peyton Whitted is proficient in the paint, scoring 9 points and grabbing eight boards per contest.
With seven games left on the season’s slate, Rutgers is looking to have its run of bad luck change in time to make it count.
But Copper’s confidence in her team has never wavered.
“As long as we’re out there encouraging everybody and giving them energy,” she said. “I think that there is nothing they can't do.”