Victory preserves NCAA Tourney legitimacy
On Selection Monday in two weeks, a home loss to South Florida is like a scrawny kid in gym class. It screams, "don't pick me."
A 52-46 victory, however ugly it was, looks a lot better in the eyes of the selection committee. The Rutgers women's basketball team stands at 16-11 on the season with ranked wins over Georgetown and Marquette. Winning the last two games with two left in the regular season puts the Scarlet Knights in good position to qualify for the NCAA Tournament.
With a similar strength of schedule and conference record last season, Rutgers made the NCAA tournament with 19 wins.
"We knew the importance of winning this game," said head coach C. Vivian Stringer. "We know the importance of playing and winning the next two games. And most importantly, we have to know how we tick. What does our game look like?"
The win for the Knights gave the team a crucial boost in the Big East standings with the conference tournament starting a week from today. Rutgers (16-11, 9-5) jumped from a three-way tie for sixth place into a tie for fourth place with Marquette and Louisville.
With a poor nonconference record at 7-6, the Knights need to win out and get some help to maintain their fourth place position, which allows for a double-bye in the conference tournament. But Rutgers holds a head-to-head victory over Marquette.
After Rutgers took the lead in the final minutes, South Florida senior center Porche Grant showed her frustration in an altercation with Rutgers forward Chelsey Lee.
When Lee pulled in a rebound and used her elbows to clear out space, Grant got violent and a scrum ensued though no one threw a punch.
Grant received a flagrant technical foul, her fifth foul in the game. She showed the middle finger to the crowd as she stormed off the court with a security escort.
Referees also gave Khadijan Rushdan a technical foul during the altercation, though she was nowhere near Grant or Lee during the exchange.
"With a really close game like that it gets competitive like that, but [nobody] meant any harm, obviously," Rushdan said. "With two teams going at it back-and-forth like that, it can get rough. We didn't mean anything by it."
For the first time in 56 days, junior guard Nikki Speed checked in at the Louis Brown Athletic Center scorer's table and entered a game.
Speed injured her foot on Jan. 3 in a win over George Washington and went through the next month and a half wearing a boot before the medical staff cleared her for action last week.
But her return to action was not a pretty one.
She quickly air-balled a jump shot on the team's first possession and followed it up a minute later with a sloppy, intercepted pass and a subsequent foul on the other end.
Speed finished with five minutes of total action and did not play in the second half.