For much of this season, the Rutgers women’s basketball team has been searching for a signature win.
Aside from their 64-52 road win at then-No. 25 Arkansas, questions rose about the Scarlet Knights’ ability to capture a victory against the top competition in the nation.
Those questions were answered last night, as the Knights picked up a crucial home win against No. 21 Minnesota (16-3, 5-2) by a score of 66-61 at the Louis Brown Athletic Center.
Rutgers (14-5, 5-3) raced out to an early 25-5 lead, eliminating any doubt whether it was prepared to play against the Gophers.
Controlling the lead for over 36 minutes in the game, Rutgers was able to control the tempo and weather multiple runs from Minnesota.
“It was huge to start that way because it helped with our confidence, we were hitting outside shots,” said sophomore guard Tyler Scaife. “Defensively, we were stopping them and we just played hard the whole game.”
The Knights immediately seized control of the game, starting on runs of 10-0 and 15-0 following the opening tip and forcing turnovers that led to easy scores on the offensive end.
Rutgers forced 10 turnovers in the first half alone, but the Gophers clawed their way back into the contest to make it a six-point deficit at halftime.
This was largely due to the size and skill of Minnesota center Amanda Zahui, who had a game-high 36 points and 15 rebounds in the contest. Every time the Gophers were in need of a basket, the ball went down low to Zahui.
The Knights had no answer for her, but displayed impressive defensive pressure on the rest of the Gophers.
“I’ve never seen anybody take 33 shots,” said Rutgers head coach C. Vivian Stringer. “But she is an outstanding player and I thought our best bet was to put a lot of pressure on the guards so they couldn’t see Zahui, and just force her to move and take off balance shots.”
Aside from Zahui, Rutgers limited Minnesota to 31 percent shooting from the field. In total, the Knights forced 17 turnovers and accumulated eight blocks in the game.
Rutgers scored 18 points off of turnovers, while also adding 16 points from the fast break.
Scaife scored a season-high 28 points, along with senior wing Betnijah Laney adding 15 points and six rebounds. Junior wing Kahleah Copper chipped in 13 points and six rebounds.
“I thought what we needed to do an offense tonight, we executed at near perfection,” Stringer said. “I really haven’t seen us move the ball as well and as beautiful as it was moved today.”
With an important home win, Rutgers improved to 2-4 against ranked opponents.
To Laney, recording a win in that column helps give the Knights a critical self-confidence boost.
“We really needed this one,” Laney said. “It was our first signature win against a top-25 team and I think it was major for us because we showed people we are capable of beating a top-25 team.”
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