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Rutgers season ends after 71-55 loss to Virginia in second round of WNIT

<p>Senior forward Kahleah Copper attempts to find space to shoot in Rutgers 71-55 loss to Virginia in the second round of the WNIT.</p>

Senior forward Kahleah Copper attempts to find space to shoot in Rutgers 71-55 loss to Virginia in the second round of the WNIT.

The first 10 minutes of the Rutgers women’s basketball team’s matchup with Virginia in the second round of the WNIT appeared to be a flashback to the first round.

Just like the Scarlet Knight’s 57-55 win over Georgetown Thursday, the affair was back-and-forth from the jump, with the lead changing five times in the first quarter alone.

The Knights ended the opening 10 minutes with a 16-15 lead after a tear drop from junior guard Tyler Scaife with three seconds remaining in the period.

The rest of the game was a different story.

Virginia opened the floodgates with a 5-0 run in the first minute and a half of the second quarter to take a 20-16 lead and never looked back, ending Rutgers' season with a 71-55 win at the Rutgers Athletic Center Sunday.

Head coach C. Vivian Stringer wasn't happy following the game. She didn't hold back as she questioned the intensity with which her troops played what ended up being the last game of the season.

“For whatever reason, we were hurt in our minds, hurt in numbers and we played like we could care less. We should’ve just taken it as a forfeit,” the Hall of Fame coach said. “I think the best way to move on from this is to take it out of my mind.”

Stringer called her first timeout of the contest following the early run from the visitors, but it wasn’t enough to stop the Cavs. They continued their run after the stoppage in play, extending it to 11-0 to take the first double-digit lead of the night at 26-16 with 6:20 remaining in the first half.

Rutgers responded with a pair of quick buckets from Scaife and senior forward Kahleah Copper to temporarily stop the bleeding and reduce the deficit to 26-20, but Virginia outscored the Knights 6-5 the rest of the way to take a 32-25 lead into the break.

The Knights were down a point for every free throw they missed at the half, as they hit just 1 of 8 attempts from the line in the opening 20 minutes. Copper was the biggest culprit, going 1-for-7 from the charity strip in the first half and finishing the game 4-for-11.

“I think it was all mental,” she said of her struggles from the line. “I started to think about it too much.”

The Cavs stormed out of the gate again in the third quarter, scoring 9 of the first 11 points in the half to take a 14 point lead three minutes into the second half.

Virginia would lead the rest of the way, inflating its advantage to as much as 22 points.

The contest was a mirror image of the meeting between the teams earlier in the season at the Paradise Jam. After a back-and-forth start to the game, Rutgers took a second quarter lead it never relinquished en route to a 60-48 win over Virginia in the U.S. Virgin Islands the day after Thanksgiving.

Back on Nov. 27, the Knights were aspiring to return to the NCAA Tournament for the second straight season. Four months later, their season ends with a blowout loss to the Cavs.

After leading the Knights with 22 points against Georgetown Thursday, senior center Rachel Hollivay was kept quiet by Virginia, mustering up just 7 points.

Virginia’s game plan worked on Hollivay, but it left a lot of space on the perimeter for the Knights. They didn’t take advantage, shooting 20 percent from beyond the arc.

“I thought they doubled down on her much quicker,” Stringer said. “The problem is that we were making a pass to the outside and we decided to go ahead and take jumpers, and we finished 3-for-15, instead of attacking and getting to the rim. It’s not what we wanted, but that’s what happened.”

Copper, who had 21 against the Hoyas, led the Knights with 17 points on the afternoon, but it wasn’t enough to clinch one more game in her illustrious career at Rutgers.

The Second Team All-Big Ten selection has a future in the WNBA to look forward to, but that doesn’t make her any less disappointed in how her career on the Banks came to a close.

“I hope I have the opportunity to continue to play,” she said of her future plans.

Copper won’t be around, but Stringer will, and the 21st year head coach is looking to make some changes next season.

“You will see a different culture (next year),” Stringer said. “You’ll see a lot of things different.”

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

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