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Rutgers faces tough road test in WNIT quarterfinals

<p>Sophomore guard Kahleah Copper said RU’s close win against SHU on Thursday bodes well for Rutgers’ chances in the WNIT.</p>

Sophomore guard Kahleah Copper said RU’s close win against SHU on Thursday bodes well for Rutgers’ chances in the WNIT.

As if withstanding 50 minutes of action, two overtimes, 11 ties and 18 lead changes Thursday against Seton Hall was not enough, the WNIT only gets tougher from here on out for the Rutgers women’s basketball team.

After three home wins through the first three rounds, the Scarlet Knights (25-9) now must go on the road tonight in the quarterfinals and do what no team has done this season — win at Bowling Green.

The Falcons (30-4) are undefeated in 16 games at the Stroh Center in Ohio this year, most recently topping Michigan, 63-53, Thursday in the Round of 16. They have won all of their home games by double digits.

But it comes with a twist.

Even with the No. 32 RPI, Bowling Green missed the NCAAs because it plays in the lowly Mid-American Conference and faced a modest out-of-conference schedule. It lost its only game against a ranked rival Dec. 22 at then-No. 18 Purdue, 57-48.

That makes tonight’s quarterfinal difficult to predict.

Rutgers, which has appeared in the AP Top 25 several times this year, is one of few major conference teams the Falcons have faced. As one of the bubble teams that just missed the NCAA Tournament, the Knights are one of the best teams in the WNIT field.

But if they are to snap Bowling Green’s unbeaten home mark, the Knights need similar mental fortitude they showed against Seton Hall, said head coach C. Vivian Stringer.

“We’ve got to handle [going on the road],” Stringer said postgame Thursday. “It’s all mental. All we want is everybody just to make no excuses, step up and [be] mature and consistent. ... All of this is mental. I know that we have the skill level that we need. We have everything that we need. It’s just mentally being tough.”

For Stringer, pushing through Thursday night’s double-overtime grind served as another progression in the Knights’ simulation of the NCAA Tournament — also a 64-team bracket.

Freshman guard Tyler Scaife stepped up with a career-high 29 points against the Pirates. Sophomore wing Kahleah Copper and junior wing Betnijah Laney added a combined 47 points.

And the Knights as a whole dished 15 assists, corralled 51 rebounds and got to the free-throw line a season-high 41 times — converting 85.4 percent — to put together one of their most impressive performances of the year.

Living to play another day means another chance to gain postseason experience.

“We needed to do this [tournament] so that when we go through these ranks as an NCAA team, we know how that happens — the progression, and the games and the way that comes about,” Stringer said. “It was good to see.”

Bowling Green, which shot 55 percent from the field against Michigan and also boasts three players averaging double figures, will be a tough out.

But after surviving 50 minutes and everything they could handle from their in-state rival, the Knights feel capable of going all the way.

“It was really good for us to show us that we can keep fighting through anything, because we’ve been there throughout the season, through practice,” Copper said Thursday. “This is good for us moving forward.”

For updates on the Rutgers women’s basketball team, follow Greg Johnson on Twitter @GregJohnsonRU. For general Rutgers sports updates, follow @TargumSports.

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