September 18, 2019 | 57° F

Knights plan for double-bye in Conn.


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Photo by Cameron Stroud |

Junior guard Nikki Speed has seen limited action in the Knights' past three games, as she continues to recover from an ankle injury sustained early in the season.


The Rutgers women's basketball team has mixed emotions about receiving the No. 4 seed in the Big East tournament.

The Scarlet Knights are happy about their four-game win streak that jumped them four spots in the standings but see the corresponding double-bye in the 16-team tournament as a major disadvantage.

"I'd rather be playing [today] or [tomorrow]," junior guard Nikki Speed said. "It isn't an advantage at all. It kind of hurts us because we have to do well in this one to make sure we play [in the NCAA tournament]. The double-bye doesn't help us at all."

With 18 wins to their name, the Knights (18-11, 11-5) see the double-bye as two missed opportunities to add wins to their March Madness résumé.

Instead of having a chance at wins No. 19 and 20 against lower-seeded teams, a shot at a 20th win would likely come against No. 1 Connecticut Monday night on the school's home turf.

"If we would have played that first game or that second game on Saturday, it would have given us possibly another win," said junior guard Khadijah Rushdan. "I also think it's good for our team, with the amount of people we have and injuries we have, to be able to rest and not have to play back-to-back."

With their first game Sunday afternoon, the Knights will face a team with at least one game under their belt in the tournament. While this is an advantage in terms of rest, it works against them in terms of momentum, Speed said.

"They know what to expect," she said. "Their freshmen and newcomers have seen it. They had their first game. They got their jitters out of the way. We have to find a way of getting our freshmen and our newcomers comfortable and confident without having seen it."

In last year's Big East tournament, Speed played the role of 24-hour hero for a squad scrapping and clawing for an NCAA tournament bid.

Playing Georgetown, the No. 14 team in the country and No. 3 in the conference, Speed hit the two shots that won the game and put Rutgers into the NCAA tournament.

Speed sent the tight game into double overtime with a 3-pointer and hit another in the 49th minute of action to clinch a victory.

But since that time, basketball became a hardship for the junior guard from Pasadena, Calif. Speed went down with a foot injury two months ago, and after missing 11 contests she averages just 12.5 minutes per game as a backup guard.

"It gets depressing, but it's also good to be back," Speed said. "I've never been out for this long, so getting back involved is tough. I missed the first game against UConn this year, so I'm really aiming to get that first win and get a chance to play them this season."

Rutgers enters the Big East Tournament with as much momentum as any conference team other than No. 1 Connecticut. Winning four in a row and two against ranked opponents represents the second-longest winning streak in the conference behind the Huskies.

"The thing that I'm looking for is to see if the kids can define themselves," said head coach C. Vivian Stringer. "I do feel that we're not at an advantage [with the double-bye]. I think that we would be better if we had played another game."

Three different teams have the ability to tip off against Rutgers at noon on the third day in Hartford, Conn. No. 12-seed Pittsburgh and No. 13-seed South Florida play today, with the winner facing No. 5 Marquette tomorrow. Rutgers narrowly defeated both the Panthers and the Bulls at home this season and trumped the Golden Eagles on the road while they were the No. 21 team in the country.

A win in the quarterfinals against any of the three teams likely means a semifinal clash with Connecticut for the Knights.


Sam Hellman

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