Win over WVU preserves nearly unblemished RAC record
With a new floor installed before the start of the season, the Rutgers women's basketball team stated early and often that this year was about using the home-court advantage offered by the Louis Brown Athletic Center.
In front of 3,858 people at the RAC on Saturday, the Scarlet Knights took the final step in asserting their home dominance, defeating No. 19 West Virginia to conclude the home slate at 12-1. The lone loss came a month ago against Connecticut, which clinched yet another Big East regular season title Saturday and has not lost a conference game since 2008.
"I think it would be better if we would have [won it] against UConn also, but hey, they're the best in the country" said junior forward April Sykes, who finished with 18 points. "I think it's great just showing our character and how we've grown throughout the year. Every time we're home and we get down, I think it's easier when we're home to come back than on the road."
The last time Rutgers had just one home loss in a season came in 2007-08, when the team went to the Elite Eight in the NCAA Tournament.
"I think it's great," Sykes said. "The fans come to the games to see us win, not lose."
In terms of postseason tournaments, the weekend cleared up a lot of questions. The victory over a ranked opponent likely secured the Knights a spot in the NCAA Tournament and gave the team a chance at a double-bye in the Big East Tournament next week in Hartford, Conn.
Charlie Creme, ESPN women's basketball bracketology expert, said on his Twitter that Rutgers is in the field after the win and he expects 10 teams from the conference to qualify.
"I don't need any [top 25] votes," said head coach C. Vivian Stringer on the road ahead. "I'm not trying to get in the top 20. Just keep us right where we are — oblivious and nobody knows our name. We've done very well [while] anonymous. We just need to keep working."
To achieve a double-bye, Rutgers has to beat Seton Hall tonight and Louisville has to lose at Providence. Otherwise, the team receives a first-round bye and begins tournament play on Friday at the XL Center.
Freshman Daisha Simmons started over sophomore Monique Oliver against West Virginia in what Stringer said was an attempt to "open the game up." Starting Simmons instead of Oliver allowed her and sophomore guard Erica Wheeler to take more drives to the basket.
Simmons, a Jersey City native, logged 25 minutes and scored five points in her second career start.
Tonight's road game against Seton Hall marks the final regular season game for Rutgers. The Pirates (8-20, 1-14) are tied with Cincinnati for last place in the Big East but offer an interesting coaching matchup in Anne Donovan.
Donovan spent last year as head coach of the New York Liberty before replacing Phyllis Mangina as the head of Seton Hall. Donovan and Stringer have experience coaching together at the Olympic level.