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Rutgers returns to form, snaps two-game skid against Michigan

<p>Sophomore guard Tyler Scaife scans the floor for an open teammate cutting to the basket in the first half Tuesday night at the RAC. Scaife dazzled with 20 points, tying Laney for the game-high mark and boosting Rutgers to its first win of the new year.</p>

Sophomore guard Tyler Scaife scans the floor for an open teammate cutting to the basket in the first half Tuesday night at the RAC. Scaife dazzled with 20 points, tying Laney for the game-high mark and boosting Rutgers to its first win of the new year.

For the past two weeks, it almost seemed as if the Rutgers women’s basketball team momentarily lost its identity.

The Scarlet Knights were thrashed on the road at Ohio State. They returned home only to be torched by a No. 20 Iowa team that shot the lights out of the RAC.

But when Michigan came to town Tuesday night, No. 24 Rutgers got back to basics.

Behind a rejuvenated defense and a rediscovered interior game, the Knights (11-4, 2-2) found their way back into the win column with an 81-68 triumph over Michigan on Tuesday night at the Louis Brown Athletic Center.

While it wasn’t secured without a bit of a scare in the second half where the Wolverines mustered up some steam to piece together a comeback, head coach C. Vivian Stringer felt relieved to be back on track with a win.

“We’re asking the team to look for each other, let it flow, trust each other,” Stringer said. “We can do one of two things: we can look at [injuries and losses] as a setback or a set up — and we choose to look at it as a set up. … We choose not to make that an excuse — we want to get better.”

After senior wing Betnijah Laney’s pull-up jumper from the right elbow as time expired allowed Rutgers to cruise into halftime with a 42-25 lead, the Knights came out of the locker room flat.

Michigan (10-5, 2-2), meanwhile, stormed out in the second half a different team, seizing the momentum with conviction on its way to an improbable 26-9 run to open up the first 9:15 back in action to tie the ballgame up at 51 apiece and send the home crowd into silence.

“We kind of got comfortable a little,” Laney said. “So it was just a matter of, yes, it was a wakeup call. … It’s crunch time. We gotta get going. We can’t allow for them to come back and be in the game because we all know what happens. You get comfortable and they come back scoring, so we just had to come out and fight.”

And fight they did.

Capped by Laney’s jumper at the 8:32 mark, Rutgers reeled off a 7-0 spurt to regain control of the game that had previously been slipping each time Michigan touched the ball.

Continuing to recover from a sprained thumb, Laney posted her 11th double-double of the season with 20 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists and even five steals to drive the Knights down the stretch.

As if that stat line wasn’t impressive enough, Laney shot a staggering 67 percent from the field to round out one of the most complete performances of her career.

“My thumb is doing a lot better than it initially was. It’s just we’re continuing to do treatment and everything. … It’s definitely a lot better,” Laney said. “I mean, I’m pretty happy with my performance. We came out with the ‘W,’ so that’s good.”

As sophomore guard Tyler Scaife pitched in with 20 points and five rebounds, she and Laney combined to pour in roughly half of the team’s 81 total points with 40.

The Wolverines narrowed the deficit to four with under six minutes remaining, but that’s as close as they could get.

Rutgers ended the game on a 17-4 run, highlighted by junior wing Kahleah Copper’s three-point play after she drove to the basket for the bucket and the foul with 2:29 left in the ballgame for the dagger.

With Stringer shaking up the lineup, players like junior center Rachel Hollivay thrived off the bench.

Despite a quiet second half, she provided a spark for the Knights when she was subbed in for junior center Arielle Butts. Hollivay posted eight of her 10 points in the first half, capping a dominant 20 minutes of play where Rutgers bullied Michigan in the paint, outscoring the Wolverines, 28-6.

“Yeah, it made me feel more relaxed,” Hollivay said, referring to Stringer’s decision to play her off the bench against Michigan. “… [The offense] was flowing really good. I think the whole team was relaxed, we saw each other, we just moved the ball.”

Shrita Parker made her second consecutive appearance with extended minutes and made the most of it. The freshman guard showed the flashes of excitement that she can bring to the table by netting nine points in her 21 minutes off the bench.

Laney described what Parker, who is not made available to the media after games because she is a freshman, has been able to bring to the table for the team.

“She’s coming along really well. She has a lot of enthusiasm and that’s key for us,” Laney said. “She brings a lot of energy and that’s what we always need. We always need people to bring energy and she just goes hard, she attacks, she looks to do different things for us and that’s what we need.”

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

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