Rutgers gets strong play through bench over weekend
The Rutgers women’s basketball team may have gone 1-2 in the Gulf Coast Showcase this past weekend, but there are still a lot of positives to take away from the three-game slate.
After a loss to No. 3 South Carolina (6-1), a win against Western Michigan (3-4), and a loss to Washington State (3-4), the Scarlet Knights (5-2) finished sixth in the Showcase held in Estero, Florida. Undefeated heading into the tournament, they emerged with two losses, but a lot of things to be proud of heading into a stretch of eight straight home games.
For one, Rutgers showed resolve in a 78-68 loss against South Carolina, the defending national champions and one of the best teams in the country. Staying within 10 points to an undefeated Gamecocks team that previously beat teams by as many as 30 points is no easy feat, but the Knights pulled it off. The team even pulled within three with less than five minutes remaining.
“We played extremely hard and good enough to win,” said head coach C. Vivian Stringer.
Hoping to rebound and avoid having to play for last place, the Knights came back with a 75-64 victory over Western Michigan, where they overcame a 14-point second quarter deficit and turned it into a 10-point lead heading into the fourth quarter. But when the Broncos cut the lead down to four with 1:54 remaining, Rutgers outscored them 11-4 down the stretch to earn a double-digit victory.
Fifth-year senior guard Tyler Scaife scored a season-high 29 points and led the team in scoring for the fifth time in six games. Junior forward Caitlin Jenkins also enjoyed a breakout game, recording her first double-double as a member of the Knights with 17 points and 12 rebounds.
“The team knows how to find (Jenkins), and even if they don’t she does a great job rebounding,” Stringer said. “I thought she did a nice job.”
Even a close 63-60 loss to Washington State on Sunday did not come without its positives. Rutgers went on many runs throughout the game to close gaps and take leads, with three players scoring in double figures.
“I’m proud of the way our team played,” Stringer said. “They didn’t give up and played with a winning attitude. They did exactly what they needed to do. I think we need to focus more on individuals doing what they need to do.”
One of the biggest takeaways from the weekend is that Stringer’s famous “55 Press” defense continues to work wonders. The Knights forced 65 total turnovers over the three games, including 25 against Western Michigan and 22 against Washington State. Rutgers has shown itself to be one of the top teams in the country in forcing turnovers, and any team that faces it should be very careful with the ball.
Additionally, the Knights continued to show that they would get every single player involved in every single game. They used all 14 available players in each game, something that they have done all season.
On Sunday, Stringer had a unique starting lineup, bringing out Jenkins, freshman guard Kate Hill, sophomore guard Ciani Cryor, guard Nigia Greene, and freshman forward Tekia Mack. Having different lineups allows different platoons of players to take the court at different times and creates mismatches with opponents.
“We count on them to push the tempo and establish how we’re going to play, and count on the next group to attack even more,” Stringer said. “We count on (certain players) to do certain things.”
There were obviously negatives from the weekend, which is why Rutgers lost two games, but the positives were a lot brighter. The Knights are exceeding expectations, and will definitely be a force to be reckoned with all season long.
With a long home stand coming up, they will be able to enjoy home court advantage, while honing their skills.
“We’re going to rest and see what we can work on better,” Stringer said. “We’ve only been home one time.”
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