Rutgers seeks complete effort in RAC finale
It did not take long for head coach C. Vivian Stringer and the Rutgers women's basketball team to get back on the Louis Brown Athletic Center floor after the first half against South Florida. The Scarlet Knights came back to the hardwood down nine with six minutes to spare before the second half began and quickly did enough to earn a victory over the inferior conference opponent.
The Knights welcome West Virginia to the RAC tomorrow to close out their home slate, looking to string together two halves and avoid relying on another second-half surge.
But with each game gaining more significance as the season wears on, Stringer's squad begins to display more and more resilience, something it did not have to start the year.
"We were inspired in the second half [against USF]," Stringer said. "They knew what had to happen. It would be a shame for us to discount what I really felt has become a part of our own guts and our own DNA. I think they learned some things, they owned some things within themselves right now. It would have been so bad for us not to fight and back it up because I think we learned how to do that."
With No. 1 Connecticut, No. 7 Notre Dame and No. 11 DePaul atop the standings, a quartet of teams remain in contention to snag the fourth seed.
Attaining their 10th conference victory tomorrow afternoon against the Mountaineers would set the Knights up nicely heading into their season finale at last-place Seton Hall.
But a loss would drop them out of the top-four discussion and make the Knights' capper in South Orange, N.J., a must-win on the road.
Made clear in its near defeat at the hands of USF, Rutgers is still very much susceptible to losing against a one-win conference opponent.
But Stringer's gritty group is also very much capable of overcoming any obstacle.
"Even though it was at home, [South Florida is] a good team," Stringer said following the Knights' narrow victory. "They're feisty, they're quick and like [junior forward] Chelsey [Lee] said, they kind of keep you off balance in terms of what you expect. But you always want to see a team that fights back, and I thought that we did."
If there is anyone on the Knights' roster that knew the significance of the game, it was Lee, who dismissed any notions of looking down on the Bulls leading up to the contest.
And though she was quiet in the first half, all the Miami native needed was the final five minutes of action, when she scored 10 points to will the Knights to victory.
"Those hits were inside. They were very specific," Stringer said of Lee's plays in the post down the stretch. "We felt like she could handle her girl, so we were trying to isolate more."
Lee averaged 14.2 points per game over the Knights' past four contests and should once again prove an integral part of Stringer's gameplan with the Mountaineers in town.
West Virginia's Asya Bussie, a 6-foot-4 forward, will test Lee down low in the RAC finale.
But with the Parkway Academy (Fla.) product playing her best basketball of the season at the right time, the Knights could be poised to continue their strong run to close the year.
"I think Rutgers is a Cinderella team," Lee said. "You never think they're going to be there and out of the blue we come there. But we can't just think because that's our history and our reputation that that's what's going to happen again.
"We're not the same players that played a year ago or two years ago. We need to just grind –– get in there and make sure we're doing what needs to be done so we can make that run."
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