The last few weeks for the Rutgers women’s basketball team have been examples of how competitive the Big Ten can be.
After losing only two games the entire season and riding a four game win streak, the Scarlet Knights (17-6, 7-5) lined up against Michigan State on Jan. 20 at the Rutgers Athletic Center (RAC). The eventual loss sent Rutgers into a downward spiral, as it has compiled a 2-4 record since then.
Of course, the scoreboard resets after every game. When the opening whistle echoes through the Breslin Center in East Lansing, Michigan, the score there will read 0-0 under the names of each school.
One of the Spartans' (11-12, 4-8) players tasked with turning the zero into its team's average of nearly 70 points per game (PPG) is Nia Clouden.
Clouden has led her team into battle by starting in every game and scoring 14.5 PPG. Her only other teammate averaging double-digit points is Taryn McCutcheon (10.7 PPG). When Michigan State and the Knights first matched up in January, both players approximately scored their averages.
The rebound leaders for the Spartans are Kayla Belles and Julia Ayrault. Both are averaging approximately five rebounds per game. That stat would be good enough for fifth on the team at the Banks.
Averaging an upward of two rebounds more than Belles and Ayrault is junior forward Tekia Mack, with seven boards per game. Mack is part of a group of three Rutgers players averaging point totals in the double digits. Graduate student guard Khadaizha Sanders and junior guard Arella Guirantes are the others.
The group of three is averaging more than 30 minutes per game. Head coach C. Vivian Stringer also has plenty of weapons on the bench who have the ability to change the course of a game. Stringer has shown this by injecting young talent into a strong veteran rotation.
One such player is sophomore guard Zipporah Broughton. Over the last two games, Broughton has taken the starting spot of junior forward Mael Gilles. In those two games, she averaged 7 points and also stole the ball a career-high five times against Penn State. Given Broughton’s recent success, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see her start her third straight game.
In order to win on the road, the Knights must revert back to what guided them to the top of the Big Ten just a few weeks ago. While one can analyze the fine details of each game, it is not necessary to do so to understand that Rutgers must stand strong on defense.
The team has certainly showed that it can. Through 23 games, it is giving up an average of only 55.3 PPG. That stat is thanks to players who can shoot and force turnovers.
Talking about the Knights’ defense without talking about its press is like talking about Rutgers eateries without discussing the famed Stuff Yer Face on Easton Avenue. When the “55” press play is in full power, opponents struggle to get the ball past half court. When displayed at the RAC, the crowd does not shy away from showing its approval. A successful deployment of it will quiet the East Lansing crowd and drive up the Knights’ score.
Lastly, Rutgers needs to play tough in the paint. It has the size to do so, with senior center Jordan Wallace, who has already posted two double-doubles this season, as well as true freshman center Maori Davenport, who stands at 6 feet 4 inches.
The late season Thursday night matchup will be an opportunity for revenge and also a chance to shake off whatever has been affecting the Knights. A win would show that this team belongs in the top of the Big Ten and will have fans counting down the days until Selection Monday.