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Rutgers sits atop Big Ten standings amidst tough schedule

As the Rutgers women’s basketball team continues its run as a nationally ranked team, its opponents are getting more and more eager to knock them off its ranking. 

The No. 20 Scarlet Knights (17-5, 9-2) have had some quality games, but they've also come across tough opponents in the Big Ten. 

The most recent Big Ten game was against Minnesota. At away games, Rutgers has a 5-3 record. While the team does have a winning record, at home the Knights are undefeated at 11-0.

In Minneapolis last Sunday, Rutgers had an early lead on the Golden Gophers (15-7, 4-7) due to a poor shooting percentage in the first half by Minnesota. The Gophers shot a 17.4 field goal percentage in the first half, but amped up their game in the second half with an astonishing 44.4 percent from the floor. 

While a tough loss for the Knights, they have shown time and time again that they can compete against some top teams in the conference.

On a higher note, Rutgers defeated Indiana at the Rutgers Athletic Center (RAC) in a close game. The Knights started off with a rough first half, falling behind the Hoosiers (17-6, 6-5) by 14 points. The third quarter was another story. With the help from junior guard Ciani Cryor, who earned a career-high 22 points, Rutgers was able to walk away with a win by 5 points.

“Last year we lost to them,” said head coach C. Vivian Stringer. “And I think they play extremely well when they’re at Indiana. The first order of business is to take care of our business here.”

Prior to both Indiana and Minnesota, the Knights went up against one of their more evenly-matched opponents this season in: No. 16 Iowa. Rutgers lost by a close 6 points to the Hawkeyes (17-5, 8-3) who are also undefeated at home and have only one more Big Ten loss than the Knights. 

Iowa ended the game with an impressive 50 percent field goal percentage.

The largest lead of the game was only 8 points in the last quarter, which just goes to show how close the rest of the game was. The first quarter ended in a tie at 21 points, but inevitably Rutgers flew back to New Jersey with an unfortunate loss added to its record.

The Knights continued to show that they deserved to be in the Big Ten, as they earned another upset win with No. 23 Michigan State. Rutgers had an early lead with 21 points in the first quarter against the Spartans' (16-5, 6-4) 14. 

Michigan State had a 37.1 field goal percentage while the Knights commanded a 51.9 field goal percentage.

After all of these highs and lows, one of the most notable wins for Rutgers this season was against then-No. 4 Maryland, who is now ranked No. 10. The Knights weren't even ranked at that point, but blew away their opponent, scoring a whopping 28 points just in the first quarter, then another 26 in the fourth.

The impressive record held by Rutgers goes to show that it has kept its 22 straight opponents under their scoring averages.

The Terrapins (20-2, 9-2) come to the RAC this Sunday with a loss against Michigan State and a five-game winning streak. But the Knights may have the upper hand with a previous win at Maryland, back on New Year's Eve.

Rutgers gave the Terrapins first loss of the season on Dec. 31, and the Knights have another chance to prove themselves this Sunday. Maryland is coming for redemption, and Rutgers is hoping for another upset win.

“We just need to refocus,” Stringer said. “Because I thought that from the beginning, until we got into some really good competition. We got to the point where we weren’t fouling as much. What’s important is you have to know who you are and when you’re out of sync.”

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

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