Rutgers faced with another difficult road test in Northwestern
In the midst of an eight-game losing streak, the Rutgers women’s basketball team will look to halt its losses and score an upset victory when the Scarlet Knights (6-21, 3-11) visit Northwestern Thursday night at 7 p.m. The Wildcats (18-9, 7-7) have already taken down Rutgers once this season, a 55-37 blowout at the Rutgers Athletic Center.
That game featured arguably the Knights’ worst offensive output of the season, as they made just 25 percent of their shots and sophomore forward Aliyah Jeune was the only Rutgers player in double figures with 14 points.
In that same game, the Knights turned the ball over 20 times and had no rhythm or organization on offense.
“I can’t even tell you how many times we didn’t even run the right cuts,” head coach C. Vivian Stringer said after the game. “(We) didn’t set the screens on the right people. It was crazy stuff.”
While the offensive effort was nothing short of abysmal, the Knights put forth a solid effort defensively. Northwestern’s Nia Coffey is averaging 19.2 points and a league-leading 11 rebounds per game. Against Rutgers, she was limited to just 7 points and six rebounds, with that being her first game of the season in which she was held under double figures in both scoring and rebounding.
Despite this, Coffey will still be the best player on the floor and Rutgers will have to plan even harder for her. As a whole, the Wildcats will give the Knights their best shot, as they are fighting for an National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Tournament at-large bid and just recently ended a four-game losing streak.
And along with Coffey, Northwestern touts two other players averaging double-figures this season in Christen Inman and Ashley Deary, who are averaging 12 and 11 points per game, respectively. Deary also leads the Big Ten in steals with 3.9 per game, a mark no one in the conference is close to approaching.
Stringer knows that Coffey has a tremendous supporting cast and that they have loads of experience that make them a very difficult team to beat.
“I recognize that they’ve got four seniors and one junior and they’re playing really well,” Stringer said. “And Coffey is an outstanding player. But the others are an outstanding group too. They’re not ‘fill in the blanks.’ They’re legitimate players.”
In order to counter Northwestern’s strong stable of talent, Rutgers will need ramp up its guard play. Shrita Parker is the leading scorer with 10.9 pointS per game but is the only player on the team that is averaging double-digit points.
Sanders and Jeune will need to provide points from their respective positions as well as junior wing Kandiss Barber, who has seen her production dip in Big Ten play.
Perhaps the biggest obstacle the Knights will face will not be a player, but rather the fact that they are away from the RAC. In road games, they are 0-14 and very rarely come close to winning. The only two teams below Rutgers in the conference standings are Nebraska and Wisconson, both teams that defeated the Knights at their respective home courts.
As this forgettable season winds down, Rutgers is destined for single digit victories, a figure that could be a career low for Stringer as a head coach, as her only other single-digit win season was in the 2001-2002 season when she went 9-20 with Rutgers.
“This is the only team I know that I haven’t been able to figure this one out for my life,” she said.
The two remaining guaranteed games on the Knights' slate are against two of the better teams in the Big Ten and another win does not seem likely, especially if they continue to struggle shooting the ball.
While searching for an answer to this season, Stringer simply boiled it down to one thing that will always ring true for any team, ever.
“At the end of the day, the name of the game is to put the ball in the basket,” she said. “And we don’t do such a good job of that."