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Rutgers eyes top of Big Ten in four-game stretch

<p>Fresh off a season-high 28 points, sophomore guard Tyler Scaife hopes to continue her hot streak when she and the Knights take on Purdue in a Big Ten road matchup. </p>

Fresh off a season-high 28 points, sophomore guard Tyler Scaife hopes to continue her hot streak when she and the Knights take on Purdue in a Big Ten road matchup. 

As snow poured down from the clouds and buried the northeast, Kahleah Copper and the Rutgers women’s basketball team couldn’t do much. 

Following the second win over a top-25 team in No. 21 Minnesota this past Sunday, the Scarlet Knights waited around for the roads to clear. The conditions presented a narrowing time frame to prepare for a taxing road trip to West Lafayette, Indiana.

Despite the time constraints, Kahleah Copper isn’t worried.

“It’s going to be tough traveling anyway, and we haven’t really had that time to prepare because of the snow,” Copper admitted. “[But] I think the coaches are going to get everything together, and I think we’re going to be well prepared for this game.”

Rutgers (14-5, 5-3) enters Purdue after winning four of its last five games, with the lone defeat coming on a hiccup at home against then-No. 8 Maryland. 

But if the Knights can take care of business with the Boilermakers (10-10, 3-6) on Thursday night at Mackey Arena, they can put themselves in a solid spot.

“This team played hard enough. This team played defensively. There was no one that was trying to be slack,” said head coach C. Vivian Stringer after Sunday’s game against Minnesota. “We put pressure on the ball. … I thought that’s what it was. Everyone was on the same page.”

With the next few slate of games, Stringer must hope her team continues to stay on that same page.

Currently, Rutgers sits in a five-way tie for third place in the Big Ten. With matchups against No. 15 Nebraska and Michigan looming in two of their next three games, the Knights can find themselves in sole possession of third place behind Iowa and Maryland in the standings.

Despite the advantages formulating on paper, Copper says the team’s focus remains on the court in a game-by-game mentality.

“I think we’re just focused on us and playing that great defense and being able to execute,” she said. “… I think we’ll be successful if we follow that.”

While Rutgers did struggle at times against Minnesota, it held a clear advantage throughout the contest.

Even center Amanda Zahui’s game-high 36 points and 15 rebounds weren’t enough to make a serious threat to a lead that the Knights possessed in nearly the game’s entirety.

“I think we played really great defense,” Copper said. “[Zahui], she’s a really good player and we knew she was going to get hers, so we just had to shut the guards down and make sure they didn’t do anything and we just executed the game plan and shared the ball.”

Tyler Scaife didn’t quite pull in as many rebounds, but the sophomore guard dazzled in the winning effort with a season-high 28 points on a red-hot 57 percent shooting.

On the season, Scaife has gone over the 20-point mark on seven different occasions and leads the team in scoring with 16.5 points per game.

Against a Purdue team that ranks near the doormat of the Big Ten in terms of scoring and field goal percentage on defense at 9th and 11th, respectively, the expectation is for Scaife only to continue her sensational second year with the ball in her hands 

“Just practice how I want to play — you know, go out there, take the shots, just stay aggressive when I have a look,” Scaife said, describing her approach against the Boilermakers. “I try to look at [Purdue] like they are a Minnesota or a really good team and just play my game.”

For updates on the Rutgers women’s basketball team, follow @GarrettStepien and @TargumSports on Twitter.

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