Rutgers fails to rebound in 73-59 loss to No. 6 Maryland

<p>Senior forward Kahleah Copper flies in the lane for a lay up in Rutgers' 73-59&nbsp;against No. 6&nbsp;Maryland. Copper finished a game-high 23 points in defeat.</p>

Senior forward Kahleah Copper flies in the lane for a lay up in Rutgers' 73-59 against No. 6 Maryland. Copper finished a game-high 23 points in defeat.

At the close of the first quarter it looked like a thriller in the making, but by the start of the third it wasn’t even close.

Perhaps still reeling after relinquishing an 11-point lead with 4:34 left against No. 25 Michigan State Thursday, the Rutgers women’s basketball team put up a fight against No. 6 Maryland at the Rutgers Athletic Center in the first quarter Sunday, but the Terrapins (25-3, 14-2) took over from there, cruising to a 73-59 win.

It is impossible to know for sure if the result was due to a hangover from the heartbreaking loss to the Spartans that soured the Scarlet Knights performance, or simply the better team prevailing after a slow start.

Either way, it is a bitter pill for head coach C. Vivian Stringer to swallow as her team continues to struggle with consistency through four quarters.

“We just don’t have the depth or the consistency,” Stringer said. “It takes us too long to figure out what the heck we wanna do.”

Entering the matchup, Rutgers (16-12, 7-9) knew it would have to find a way to contain the Terrapins top-scorers, Shatori Walker-Kimbrough (19.3 points per game) and center Brianna Jones (15.2 points, 9.6 rebounds per).

But there is a significant gap between planning and executing.

Walker-Kimbrough proved why she is one of the top players in the country, pouring in 19 points on 7-of-15 shooting to pace a Maryland team that shot 46.9 percent from the field in the game.

Senior wing Kahleah Copper led the Knights with a game-high 23 points, but in the end, Rutgers’ backcourt could not find a way to stop SWK.

“We disengaged on down screens. We went to a zone one possession and the wings loss sight of (Walker-Kimbrough),” Copper said, responding to being asked how the Terps top-scorer finished with 19 points in 31 minutes.

“She just got too many open looks,” said junior guard Tyler Scaife.

Maryland head coach Brenda Frese felt that her team’s ability to press Rutgers after the first quarter got the Knights out of rhythm.

But Copper disagreed.

“I don’t think the press had us doing anything,” the 6-foot-1 senior said. “We could’ve gotten the ball up quicker and had a little more time on the shot clock, but I don’t think they really put any pressure (on us). I think they just wanted to slow us down.”

It was another example of beautiful game planning by Frese, who employed the soft press, sending two players at the ball-handler in the backcourt to stymie Rutgers ability to run in transition.

When Scaife sank a baseline jumper to beat the first quarter buzzer it looked like the fans would be treated to a back-and-forth affair at the RAC for the duration, but Maryland had other plans.

After Scaife’s rainbow floater snuck past the outstretched arms of two defenders, the Terps took control, outscoring Rutgers 20-8 in the second quarter and by the end of the third, it was all but over.

“I feel like we had some bad turnovers,” Scaife said. “I know myself, I started not letting it flow as much, shooting a little too quickly. And they started capitalizing on us missing. I think that’s kinda where they took off.”

The Knights shot 8-of-29 from the floor in the first half before catching up in garbage time to finish the game with a field goal percentage of 44.2 percent.

Senior center Rachel Hollivay did all she could on both ends of the floor.

Hollivay scored 11 points, grabbed six rebounds and blocked three shots, but Jones still rose above.

Maryland’s center outdueled the 6-foot-4 Hollivay, scoring 14 points and pulling down 11 boards for her 18th double-double of the season.

“We knew coming into the game that Rutgers was going to be super-aggressive on the glass,” Jones said after the win. “We planned to work as harder or harder than them on the glass to be able to get rebounds.”

The strategy worked to perfection.

The Terrapins outrebounded the Knights 41-26 for the game and dominated in bench points, finishing with a 24-2 advantage in scoring from non-starters.

After their second consecutive home loss the Knights need to regroup quickly if they have any thoughts of jumping back into the NCAA Tournament discussion.

For Stringer, the answers are becoming harder and harder to find.

“We can’t seem to get to get over the hump,” Stringer said. “This (weekend) was huge. No question about it. If we wanna play then we’ll play hard and try to extend (the season). I hope that they wanna play. And I hope that it’s not too late. But I don’t know how much more (the coaching staff) can ask for.”

For updates on the Rutgers women's basketball team follow @KevinPXavier and @TargumSports on Twitter.

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