Rutgers end losing streak with win over No. 13 Michigan
Knights get biggest win of season at RAC over weekend
After suffering disheartening loss after disheartening loss, the Rutgers women’s basketball team finally managed to put it all together for what is arguably its best win of the season so far.
The Scarlet Knights (18-7, 6-5) upset No. 13 Michigan (19-6, 8-4) 63-56 in front of a fired-up crowd at the Rutgers Athletic Center (RAC) yesterday. The win snapped a four-game losing streak — their longest of the season — and was the first time they beat a ranked team in almost three years.
“I guess we got tired of losing and decided to play for each other, and we did,” said head coach C. Vivian Stringer. “I’m really proud of the way we played today.”
During the losing streak, the main issue that players and coaches pointed out was a lack of focus in practice, leaving the team flustered during games. But something was different heading into this game.
Maybe it was the fact that this was the team's first game at the RAC since their first home loss of the season. Whatever it was, it was enough to light a fire under them and snap them out of their funk.
“It started in practice,” said fifth-year senior guard Tyler Scaife. “Our energy was a lot better when we were tuned in, and we knew we needed a big win. We don’t like losing in our house, and we take a lot of pride playing at home and in front of our fanbase.”
Stringer added that they didn’t lose any skill during the losing streak, but rather they lost their way, and today was the day that they found themselves again.
As for the game itself, Rutgers got the win primarily by playing lockdown defense against one of the best offenses in the country. Not only did it hold the Wolverines to their lowest point total in conference play, but it also held Katelynn Flaherty, the fifth-best scorer in the country (23.5 points per game), to 19 points — the Knights are just the fourth team this season to hold her to less than 20 points.
Rutgers was in command of the game from the very start, using defensive pressure to gain the upper hand early and set the tempo.
The Knights forced seven turnovers in the first quarter alone, and ended the quarter with a 15-7 lead. It was the fourth time this season that they held an opponent to less than 10 points in the first quarter, and the first since their December win over Siena.
Michigan responded with a 12-3 run in the first 5 minutes of the second quarter to take the lead, causing Stringer to call a timeout and tell her team to pick up the pace.
“For the first couple of minutes (of the second quarter) I was upset, because we needed to kick it up,” she said. “If anyone can play fast and under control, it’s us. We needed to put Michigan on their heels, and not have them put us on our heels.”
Rutgers re-emerged strong, taking control the rest of the way and ending the half with a 7-point lead. The final play of the half saw sophomore guard Ciani Cryor nail a 3-pointer at the buzzer, sending the Knights into the locker room energized.
“It definitely gave us a lot of momentum going into the second half,” Cryor said. “We were already confident, but that gave us even more confidence.”
Rutgers continued to dominate the game after the break on both ends of the floor, forcing turnovers while having a lead as large as 11 at some points. The team only allowed the Wolverines to make it a one-possession game once, and had a 45-40 lead at the end of the quarter.
The fourth quarter was more of the same — consistent offense and defense that didn’t allow Michigan to turn the game into a nail-biter. The Knights briefly increased their lead back to double-digits again and coasted to victory.
Cryor led the way for with Rutgers with 16 points, matching her season high. Junior forward Stasha Carey added 12 points, while fellow junior forward Caitlin Jenkins collected 10 rebounds.
Following the big win, the Knights will go on the road against No. 18 Ohio State, hoping to make it two straight wins against ranked opponents.
“This was an outstanding game against an outstanding team,” Stringer said. “Hopefully it’s a sign of things to come.”
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