As the conference season rolls on, the Rutgers women’s basketball team is in need of a signature win.
Aside from a 64-52 win at then-No. Arkansas, the program has come up short each time.
There isn’t a more opportunistic time for the No. 25 Scarlet Knights than this Sunday when they face No. 21 Minnesota (16-2, 5-1) at home.
The Knights (13-5, 4-3) have struggled when it comes to home games against ranked opponents, losing all four contests so far this season.
The players have felt a sense of urgency to make a statement after failing to seize the opportunity against No. 8 Maryland last Thursday.
“I think we’re at the critical part of the season,” said senior guard Briyona Canty. “We’re not getting the signature wins, so I think this game is just as important as the rest of our games this season and we have to take care of business on Sunday.”
Rutgers will need to come out of the gates quicker against Minnesota if it plans on earning that elusive key victory.
Against Maryland, the Knights faced a 25-7 deficit by the 13:30 mark of the first half. Despite tying the game early on in the second half, it was a score they ultimately could not overcome.
Playing a complete game from a defensive standpoint is one of the keys that players were stressing this week in practice in order to get out on the right foot in the first 20 minutes of play.
“In the Maryland game, and even the North Carolina game, you see that we can come back from anything when we play the defense we need to play,” said junior forward Kahleah Copper. “I think if we come out strong playing that good defense, then it shouldn’t be a problem.”
In Rutgers’ first 11 games of the year, opponents averaged 56.7 points per game. Since entering conference play, that number has risen to 66.5 points per game.
One area that has hurt the Knights on defense is their tendency to give up the 3-point shot. Rutgers currently ranks 12th in the Big Ten in three point field goal defense at .317 percent, a number they are focused on reducing for Sunday.
“We have to throw the first punch, making sure that we’re doing what our coaches are asking us,” said senior forward Betnijah Laney. “I think our number one issue in the past was defending the three, so we have to make sure that we do that because everybody but [us] shoots the three. You can’t go back and forth with shooting the three, so that’s something we have to key in on.”
The Golden Gophers provide a prime matchup for the Knights’ defense. They are executing at a high level on offensive, averaging 76.3 points per game.
Getting back to playing strong defense is one area the Knights believe will lead to earning a win to bolster their tournament resume. As the players stated, every game at this point of the season is important.
However, adding wins over ranked opponents is even more important, and it is something the selection committee will look at.
“Everybody has to bring their A-game the same day and just come out and play as a team,” Laney said.
For updates on the Rutgers women’s basketball team, follow @TargumSports on Twitter.