Rutgers hosts Minnesota in final home game
Coming off a blowout win against Wisconsin, the Rutgers women's basketball team has a golden opportunity on Thursday night.
The Scarlet Knights (19-8, 11-5), with a win in 1 of their 2 final games, can clinch two consecutive byes in the first and second rounds of the Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis next week. That would mean that they would automatically be placed in the quarterfinals next Friday.
The first opportunity will come on Thursday. Rutgers welcomes Minnesota to Piscataway, for senior night. On Super Bowl Sunday, the Golden Gophers (19-8, 8-8) handed the Knights out in Minneapolis. It was a game in which Rutgers was outscored 43-23 in the second half, en route to a 60-46 defeat, the first of which would send the team into a three-game skid.
It will be interesting to see if acting head coach Tim Eatman presses as much against Minnesota as he did against the Badgers (13-15, 4-12). He made references in his press conference on Thursday that his team would press Wisconsin, “as soon as they got off the bus."
If he has that same mindset, it could backfire. The Gophers' guards, Kenisha Bell and Jasmine Brunson, are far more talented than the ones the Badgers brought in here on Monday night. They also burned the Knights in their first matchup, with Bell scoring 19 points and Brunson scoring 13 points.
This will also be the first real test for Rutgers without recently dismissed junior guard Ciani Cryor. The team did not have to adjust in a big fashion against Wisconsin, but will have to against teams like Minnesota, Ohio State and whomever it faces in the Big Ten Tournament, as well as possibly the NCAA Tournament.
Sophomore forward Tekia Mack has led the team in scoring in 2 of the last 3 contests. She has given the squad a much-needed boost. Her production will be called upon even more now that Cryor is gone from the team.
Something to watch for on Thursday is how much fifth-year senior forward Stasha Carey will play. The transfer senior only played 3 minutes in the first half and ended up playing 17 minutes in total. Carey has been a huge part of the Knights' plan this year, both on offense and defense. It is tough to see her playing less than 20 minutes again.
The Gophers are coming off a game where they lost 71-69 last Thursday at then No. 8 Maryland. They faltered in the fourth quarter, blowing an 11-point lead and eventually losing on a buzzer beater layup from Kaila Charles.
Minnesota will be coming into Piscataway with a full week a rest to play a team it beat handily a little more than three weeks ago. But, this is the best chance for the Knights to wrap up the double bye for next week.
Their final game of the season comes Sunday at Ohio State, a team that beat Rutgers by 20 points at the Rutgers Athletic Center on Feb. 14.
For updates on the Rutgers women's basketball team, follow @TargumSports on Twitter.