Rutgers opens up season on road against James Madison
The Rutgers women's basketball team begins its season on Friday night on the road at James Madison. Last season, Rutgers lost to JMU in a thrilling double-overtime game in Piscataway.
In that game, an 82-76 loss, Dukes star Precious Hall scored an incredible 46 points to carry her team to victory. Hall has since graduated, and Rutgers comes into this season with almost an entirely new lineup.
Last season, JMU was 26-9 overall and 15-3 in conference games within the Colonial Athletic Association. Rutgers finished a dreadful 6-24 as well as 3-12 within Big Ten Conference play.
It is worth noting that JMU played only one other Big Ten opponent last season, a game against Iowa in which it lost 90-75. Comparably, Rutgers lost twice to Iowa by scores of 71-59 and 71-57.
One player that JMU should be familiar with is junior center Desiree Keeling, who had a career game against the Dukes last season. In that game, Keeling shot 10-12 from the field scoring 21 points, while also grabbing eight rebounds, four blocks and three steals. Keeling will look to improve upon that stat line in this season's opener.
As far as the other four starters go for the Scarlet Knights, JMU will be unfamiliar with them. Transfers Ciani Cryor, Kathleen Fitzpatrick and Stasha Carey are all projected to start and will be making their Rutgers basketball debuts. Star guard Tyler Scaife is also returning to the court after sitting out last season due to injury.
Scaife hasn’t played since March 20, 2016, when she scored 13 points in a 71-55 loss to Virginia in the second round of the WNIT tournament. Scaife currently has 1,611 career points, one of only 10 women’s players in Rutgers history to score over 1,600 points.
In her 2015-16 season, Scaife averaged 17.1 points per game, placing her in a tie for fourth all-time among junior scorers at Rutgers.
Rutgers hopes to return to Coach C. Vivian Stringer’s signature "55" press defense this season, a strategy that was abandoned last year. With speedy point guard Ciani Cryor and a healthy Tyler Scaife, Rutgers should smother JMU with the press.
Also look for the strong front court of Desiree Keeling and Stasha Carey to lead the way in rebounds, as well as score those much-needed points in the paint. If guard Kathleen Fitzpatrick can get going early on from three-point range, with a healthy Scaife to penetrate to the rack, Rutgers should find way more success in the win column this season.
This game is a tough first road test for Rutgers, playing a solid JMU team who plays in a weaker conference. It would be a big step for Rutgers to win this one on the road, as last year’s team was 0-14 in away games.
For updates on the Rutgers women's basketball team, follow @TargumSports on Twitter.