Rutgers returns home to face NC State
Knights begin 8-game homestand against Wolfpack
As the old saying goes, there is no place like home, and after playing six of its first seven games away from the comforts of Piscataway, the Rutgers women’s basketball team is hoping that they can make that saying a reality.
The Scarlet Knights (5-2) begin a stretch of eight straight home games when they host North Carolina State (6-1) tonight as part of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. The Wolfpack are the second ACC opponent Rutgers will face this season, as they previously beat Wake Forest, 65-51, in its only other home game. The team is looking for its first win in the Challenge since joining the Big Ten in 2014.
Coming off a sixth-place finish at the Gulf Coast Showcase in Estero, Florida, where they had losses to then-No. 3 South Carolina (6-1) and Washington State (3-4) and a win over Western Michigan (3-4), the Knights hope to rebound and start the long homestand off on the right foot.
“First of all, we’re going to rest,” said head coach C. Vivian Stinger after Sunday’s loss to Washington State. “We’ve only been home one time. I’m tired, the team is tired, they’re physically weak, and have to recover mentally.”
Despite the homecoming, Rutgers will not have it easy when they face NC State. The Wolfpack just saw its undefeated season come to an end with a 75-67 loss to South Dakota State, but have three players who average more than 10 points per game.
Senior forward Chelsea Nelson leads NC State with a 15.1 scoring average and is also its top rebounder with 7.9 boards per contest. Senior center Akela Maize and redshirt junior guard Kiara Leslie are right behind her with 12.6 and 10.0 scoring averages, respectively.
The Knights will counter with a strong attack of their own, as they are enjoying one of their best offensive seasons in the programs history. Their 72.1 points per game so far this season is higher than any season-long output ever since Stringer started coaching the program.
Leading the scoring barrage is senior guard Tyler Scaife, who has led Rutgers in scoring in six of seven games, and whose 19.9 points per game ranks first on the team. After missing last year due to injury, she has picked up right where she left off in previous years, busting out of the gate with a strong start that anyone who has seen her play should have seen coming.
Of course, Scaife is not the only contributor to the Knights' offense. Despite not starting a game, senior guard Jazlynd Rollins is second to Scaife with 9.1 points per game, and sophomore guard Ciani Cryor leads the team with 13 three-pointers, 10 more than anyone else on the team.
Rutgers also has a clear leader when it comes to cleaning up the glass, as junior forward Caitlin Jenkins leads all Knights in offensive rebounds (27), defensive rebounds (36), total rebounds (63) and rebounds per game, nine. Coach Stringer said that Jenkins is made to rebound, and she has proven this every time she has been on the court. Her rebounding has also led to her having double-doubles in the past two games.
Jenkins will have her work cut out for her against a Wolfpack team that averages 45.4 rebounds per game, which ranks among the top 30 in the country. She will have to fight hard for every board.
If Rutgers wants to prevail, its best chance will be forcing turnovers. Stringer’s famed “55 Press” defense has forced 164 turnovers so far this season with an average of 23.4 per game. The Knights have also garnered 92 overall steals with 13.1 per game, which ranks fourth overall in the country. NC State has turned the ball over 99 times, so Rutgers has a chance to take advantage and set the tempo with many forced turnovers.
Following the game, the Knights will have a day off before they face Siena on Saturday afternoon.
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