Rutgers hopes to end six-game skid against Boilermakers
As a long season begins to wind down, the Rutgers women’s basketball team looks to draw some positives from what has otherwise been a terrible season. With four games left, the Scarlet Knights (6-19, 3-9) have lost six consecutive games and are on pace for their worst season during head coach C. Vivian Stringer’s 22-year career with the program.
To reach double-digit wins, Rutgers will have to win all four of their remaining games and that begins with a contest at home against Purdue Wednesday night.
The Boilermakers (15-11, 6-6) have lost two straight games, with their most recent one being a 79-73 defeat at Penn State, a team that the Knights have beat this season.
But this season it doesn’t matter which teams have beaten which. It is a matchup league and this game will be all about how well Rutgers matchup against Purdue.
The Boilermakers will be led by senior guard Ashley Morrissette, who is averaging 15.5 points and 4.5 assists per game. The Knights will try to keep her in check with sophomore guard KK Sanders, who has been the team’s best defender this year, specializing in steals which often leads to breakaway layups.
Although that is her strength, Rutgers has struggled in certain fast break situations as of late. They have been disorganized on the break, squandering easy scoring opportunities with bad passes and poor shooting decisions.
During its six-game skid, the Knights have been sloppy in just about every area of play, much to Stringer's chagrin.
“I can’t even use the excuse that we’re inexperienced,” she said following the team’s loss to Indiana last week. “I mean when you have this many games … we’re just not very smart.”
To accompany the seniority of Morrissette, Purdue starts freshman guard Dominique Oden, who is the team’s second-leading scorer with 10.9 points per game. Stopping her will require a joint defensive effort from junior guards Shrita Parker and Jazlynd Rollins.
The key for Rutgers' defense will be to execute Stringer’s trademark high ball-pressure scheme, trying to force bad passes that lead to turnovers. This has proven to be effective early in games, but eventually, their opposition adjusts, leading to lopsided third quarters.
“We need to step it up defensively,” Parker said. “Rutgers been known as a defensive team but this team that we have right now, we’re slacking on defense.”
The third quarter has been the difference in many games this year for the Knights, as they seemingly lose their composure coming out of the locker room.
Stringer has not been able to pinpoint what causes this, but the issue is clearly high on her list of coaching priorities, as it has developed from a one-time thing to the theme of a poor season.
“It’s like the doomsday third quarter,” Stringer said. “‘Okay here we go. We gotta finish the game.’ And it’s sad. The third quarter all the time.”
Another recently developing issue for Rutgers has been getting to the free throw line. The numbers have been startling, to say the least. In an 80-46 loss to Minnesota, the Knights took just nine free throws while the Golden Gophers shot 34 at the line. In a loss to Indiana, the Hoosiers took 17 foul shots while Rutgers garnered four.
“We need to get to the free throw line,” Parker said. “Everybody else is getting to the free throw line at least 17 times and we only going three or four times and that’s really killing us.”
This is a team that was inexperienced at the beginning of the year but seemed to take a step forward early in Big Ten play when it held a 3-3 conference record with upsets over Penn State and Michigan State. Since then, the Knights have yet to win a game with their smallest margin of defeat being a 9-point road loss to No. 3 Maryland.
“It looks like we play not to lose and you can’t do that,” Stringer said. “You have to play to win.”