Rutgers get ready for final home game of season
Knights to host Iowa in RAC finale
As the end of the regular season draws closer, the Rutgers women’s basketball team finds itself in a favorable position to make the NCAA Tournament.
With two games left before the Big Ten Tournament, the Scarlet Knights (19-9, 7-7) can take care of business and be in a good position heading into Big Ten Tournament play. But first, there’s one last stop at home, and it’s a special one.
Rutgers takes on Iowa (21-6, 9-5) at the Rutgers Athletic Center (RAC) tonight, and since it’s the last home game of the season, it’s also Senior Night. The Knights will be honoring its graduating seniors with a pregame ceremony, where friends and family members can join players on the court as their achievements are recognized.
Two seniors in particular have taken interesting paths to this day. The first, fifth-year senior guard Tyler Scaife, sat out last year with an injury and has returned as a top contributor to the team. She currently has the third-most points in program history, behind alumni Sue Wicks and Cappie Pondexter.
And while she’s sad her collegiate career is coming to a close, she’s more focused on winning now.
“I feel like the last game will be more bittersweet,” she said. “I’m just trying to stay happy, and not get too sad about playing my last game. I’m trying to win this game, I’m not focused on playing my last game at the RAC right now. I’m just trying to beat Iowa … I want to come out, go hard and have a lot of fun and energy.”
On the other hand, fifth-year senior guard Kathleen Fitzpatrick is only in her first season at Rutgers. She spent her first three years at St. Joseph’s, and after sitting out a year, started playing for the Knights.
Despite spending just a fraction of her collegiate career here, she has embraced her new school and her new teammates and is excited to be a part of the ceremony. At the same time, she acknowledges that there are more important things to focus on.
“This is my family and my new home, and I’m very honored to be a part of Senior Night,” she said. “But we’re going to focus on it for the 10 minutes that we have to celebrate, and then our sole focus is going to be beating Iowa.”
Scaife, Fitzpatrick and the whole team will have to work hard to beat the Hawkeyes, as they will be dealing with one of the top players in the nation. Iowa forward Megan Gustafson leads the nation in scoring with 24.9 points per game, is fifth in rebounds per game (12.6) and is fourth in field goal percentage (66.3).
“Everyone’s going to have eyes on her and try to get her to make difficult shots,” Scaife said. “She’s going to get all the shots she wants, but we’re going to make them difficult.”
Stopping Gustafson will certainly be a task, but the team feels that it is up for the challenge.
In addition to playing physically tough, Rutgers also plans to play mentally tough.
“(We need to) be extremely tough and smart,” Fitzpatrick said. “You can play as hard as you can, but you have to outsmart them, especially with this team and their best player. That’s one of our game plans.”
The Knights haven’t played since last Wednesday, when they won at Wisconsin, and Fitzpatrick said that the team has benefitted from the long stretch in between games.
Rutgers has been able to prepare for Iowa for longer than it has prepared for other opponents, and has honed its skills during practices.
With one last chance to play in front of their home fans, the Knights plan to pull out all the stops to send fans home happy one last time.
“This is not only a very important game, but it’s our last home game, so to go out with a win is our goal,” Fitzpatrick said. “Playing at home is always so exciting because of our great fanbase and this awesome atmosphere that Rutgers has for women’s games. It’s going to be really special if we can give this amazing fanbase one last win.”
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