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Rutgers begins homestand with game against Virginia

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After a dominant performance on the beach, the Rutgers women’s basketball team returns to the Banks to face Virginia in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, beginning a four-game homestand at the Scarlet Knights' (6-1) home court.

This will be the 13th time the squads have matched up. The last time the Cavaliers (4-4) marched into Piscataway, they were turned around after Rutgers won by a score of 52-43. Virginia holds the series advantage by a tally of 7-5. 

The Cavaliers come into Thursday’s matchup having played three ranked opponents. Although they lost to all three, in the team's most recent tilt against No. 11 UCLA, Virginia held its ground until the fourth quarter where it lost by 8 points. 

Unlike the Knights, who have stayed with the same starters through the first seven games, only three players have consistently started the entire season for the Cavaliers. One of those players, Jocelyn Willoughby, has demonstrated why she’s apart of that group. 

The East Orange native is averaging nearly a double-double, with 18.1 points and approximately nine rebounds per game. She spends most of her time dominating the hardwood, as she is averaging 36.6 minutes a game. 

Willoughby will be the biggest threat to Rutgers’ defense, which has only been giving up 47.9 points per game on average, good for fourth in the league in that category.

Another fixture in Virginia’s lineup is Dominique Toussaint. Having only played in seven games, she is averaging 9.4 points through upward of 30 minutes nearly every game. Toussaint leads the Cavaliers with 19 assists this season.

Not all of Virginia’s talent comes from veterans, though. Kylie Kornegay-Lucas and Carole Miller have proven their worth. Kornegay-Lucas holds an impressive average of 9.1 points and has the second-most rebounds on the Cavaliers with 53. 

Miller is third on the team with 50 rebounds and is averaging 6.6 points per contest, putting her in fifth. She has started in half of the games, more than any other freshmen. 

What Virginia lacks and the Knights have is a player who earns honors like Greg Schiano wins bowl games. Junior guard Arella Guirantes was named Big Ten Player of the Week for the second time this season. This came as the second honor of the week. She was crowned MVP of the Junkanoo Division in the annual Junkanoo Jam. 

A quick glance at her stat line explains the phenomenon. She is averaging 19.3 points in 33.1 minutes of gameplay. That is coupled with approximately eight rebounds. 

While Guirantes has been leading the way for Rutgers, junior forward Tekia Mack has yet to score under 10 points per game while only being on the floor for 25.7 minutes per game. She was vital to the Knights’ success over Thanksgiving by scoring 30 and bringing in 10 rebounds through two games. 

Senior center Jordan Wallace plays limited minutes compared to her starter counterparts. When she is in, though, Wallace is a threat in the paint, averaging 6.1 points per game. 

Both of the games Rutgers played at Junkanoo Jam were against high-caliber teams. Georgia Tech, which the Knights outlasted for the championship, gives up the fewest points per game in the country with 40.4. The Cavaliers' mark is 59.2 points. Being on home court against weaker opponents will greatly benefit Rutgers. 

If the Knights play smart in the beginning and take the lead, this game could look like the Harvard or Niagara matchup. 

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