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Knights climb rankings with undefeated break

<p>Junior guard Erica Wheeler led the Knights with 23 points in
Saturday’s win against Louisville, setting a new career mark.</p>

Junior guard Erica Wheeler led the Knights with 23 points in Saturday’s win against Louisville, setting a new career mark.

The Rutgers women’s basketball team enjoyed a perfect span of games over winter break.

The No. 7 Scarlet Knights bested all five opponents they faced, including four Big East teams.

Concluding the unbeaten winter break stretch was Saturday afternoon’s overtime win against then-No. 15 Louisville.

Rutgers (15-2, 4-0) completed its biggest comeback of the season, down 13 points early in the second half. The previous mark was nine points in the season opener against Cal.

Junior guard Erica Wheeler led the Knights in scoring against the Cardinals, tallying a career-best 23 points, including an off-balance three-pointer that gave the Knights their final lead.

Senior guard April Sykes and junior center Monique Oliver also found themselves in double figures for scoring.

Sykes finished with 19 points while Oliver added 17 of her own.

Senior guard Khadijah Rushdan also played an important role in the Knights’ most impressive win of the season.

She fell only one point and two assists shy of a triple-double, scoring nine points to go along with eight assists and 11 rebounds.

Head coach C. Vivian Stringer strayed from her usual playing-time strategy against the Cardinals — typically, most of the freshmen see significant playing time in every game.

But thanks to a closer game than usual, no freshmen — except Briyona Canty, who started the game — saw more than six minutes of play.

Rutgers opened Big East play against Syracuse on Jan. 3, defeating the Orange, 55-44, thanks in part to 14 points from Sykes and 13 from Rushdan.

The Knights generated a season-high 27 turnovers and used them to generate 25 points.

“The key in the game was the turnovers,” said Syracuse head coach Quentin Hillsman. “You have a chance to win the game if you just take care of the ball. That was the difference in the game.”

The Orange gave Rutgers its biggest fight in the paint since No. 9 Tennessee, besting the Knights by eight rebounds and six points in the paint.

But Syracuse was lost beyond the arc, missing all four attempts, while the Knights hit four of their 14 shots.

Overall Rutgers shot only 34.5 percent, making the Knights reliant on their patented defense.

“A lot of times you can’t hit shots, but one thing you can do is you can play good defense,” Stringer said.

Sykes’ performance in the opening two Big East games earned her Big East weekly honors.

She averaged 12.5 points and nine rebounds over the stretch. Sykes leads the team in scoring with 14.6 per game, which also ranks her 11th in the conference.

Against Cincinnati, Sykes earned her third double-double of the season and the fourth of her career.

She tied her career high with 11 rebounds against the Bearcats, helping the team to a 58-47 victory.

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