Rutgers women’s basketball on pace to become DI’s most improved team
Knights haul of transfers proving to be key to success this season
Turn back the calendar exactly one year from today, and take a look at the Rutgers women’s basketball team. This time last year, the team was 6-15 on the season, and without star and then-senior guard Tyler Scaife, who was taking a redshirt season due to a medical issue.
The Scarlet Knights had a semi-talented roster, but most of their talent remained dormant on their bench, having to sit out the entire season due to NCAA transfer rules. The talented transfers could only wait, and had to watch their team struggle on the court, while not being able to help.
That 2016-17 team ended its season on an 11-game losing streak, and finished 6-24 on the year, the worst record of head coach C. Vivian Stringer’s illustrious career, ranging over 40 seasons.
Stringer would go on to describe that season as “gut wrenching” during the 2017 media day, and something that she never hopes to go through again.
Fast forward to today. The year is 2018, and Rutgers is 17-5 on the season, with a 5-3 Big Ten Conference record. It is also playing phenomenally at home, going 12-1 so far this season in games at The Rutgers Athletic Center (RAC).
The talented transfers are playing, while Scaife is back and better than ever. Stringer has a deeper bench than she has ever had before, constantly rotating fresh legs on the court to execute her full court press, which she calls her signature ‘55’ press defense.
Before Sunday’s home loss to Nebraska, the Knights came into the game ranked No. 25 in the country.
So what has been the difference? Certainly Scaife has been an answer to last seasons woes. So far this season, Scaife has carried the team without question, averaging 20.5 points per game. No other Rutgers player averages over 7.5 points per game, so Scaife is heavily relied upon offensively.
Scaife is also the team's best free-throw shooter, nailing 81 of 96 attempts, good for an 84.4-percent mark on the season. Because Scaife is so heavily relied on to make shots, she chews up minutes for the Knights, averaging a team-high 27.8 minutes per game. Recently, Scaife became the third Scarlet Knight ever to score 2,000 career points for the women’s basketball team — a true milestone.
Another huge difference in this season compared to last is the group of transfers contributing on the court for Rutgers. After sitting out last season, this group has shown why Stringer was so excited about them finally being able to play.
Junior forward and transfer Stasha Carey from Pitt is one of those players. Carey is second on the team in scoring, averaging 7.5 points per game, as well as second in minutes per game, averaging 26.8. She also leads the team in rebounding (7.7 per game) and three-point shooting percentage (38.1).
Another key player has been junior forward Caitlin Jenkins, a transfer from Southern University at Shreveport, who leads the team in blocks per game with 1.6. Jenkins also hauls in 7.6 rebounds per game, while averaging 5.4 points per game.
With the talented transfer frontcourt of Carey and Jenkins leading the team in rebounds and blocks, the backcourt full of transfers has also proved to be useful.
Sophomore guard Ciani Cryor provides the Knights with a scoring spark off the bench, as she is third on the team in scoring, averaging 6.2 points per game. Cryor leads the team in assists, with 3.6 per game, while also being second on the team in steals with 1.8 per game.
Currently, Stringer sits just six wins shy of 1,000 career coaching victories, a milestone in collegiate basketball. With eight regular season games to go, the number is still attainable, but look for Stringer to hit the record in Indianapolis during the Big Ten tournament.
The most improved team in women’s basketball can certainly make a run in the Big Ten tournament if it continues to rely on Scaife and its ‘55’ press defense, which bothers teams and forces a ton of turnovers.
With an impressive Big Ten tourney performance, Rutgers may very well find itself playing for it all come March in this year's women’s NCAA tournament, somewhere the Knights have not reached since the 2014-15 season, where they were bounced in the second round.
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