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Rutgers women's basketball overcomes challenging 2020-21 season

Senior forward Mael Giles and fifth-year senior guard Arella Guirantes combined for a total of 29.1 points per game this season for Rutgers. – Photo by Rutgers Women's Basketball / Twitter

The Rutgers’ women’s basketball team’s season came to an end in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, but the months leading up to the finale were anything but straightforward. Coming into the season, the Scarlet Knights (14-5, 10-3) had seven rostered players who hadn’t played a minute for Rutgers. “If we would’ve had a bunch of returners come it would’ve been different,” said fifth-year senior guard Arella Guirantes at the Knights’ preseason Media Day. “We would’ve had a faster pace, and we would have got into it faster, but we’re moving slow. It’s a different journey.”

That journey was supposed to start Nov. 25, 2020, against Monmouth until a positive coronavirus disease (COVID-19) test result postponed the game, a storyline that would become all too familiar for Rutgers.

The Knights' season finally started a few days later with a win headlined by 33 points from the rookies, led by true freshman guard Diamond Johnson, who finished with 15 points. By the time the new year came around, Rutgers had only dropped 2 of its 7 games by a combined point total of 10 and scored less than 80 points only once.

Johnson averaged approximately 33.5 minutes per game, 17.6 points per game (PPG) and 4.2 rebounds per game (RPG). Her scoring was second on the team, as were her 44 steals. Johnson also dished out 47 assists and has since entered the transfer portal.

Joining Johnson on the floor for 15 games was true freshman center Sakima Walker. For some games, Walker was the only substitute in head women’s basketball coach C. Vivian Stringer’s six-player rotation. Walker averaged 3.3 PPG and 2.1 RPG. 

After a three-point loss to Nebraska in the Knights' first game of 2021, things took a turn. A press release was issued two days before they were set to take on Purdue that said the game would be postponed due to positive COVID-19 cases within Rutgers’ program. That was the story for all of January, as the Knights missed eight games, only one of which was rescheduled and played.

A little more than a month later, Rutgers was back on the floor to face the Cornhuskers (13-13, 9-10) again, this time with a much different result. The Knights won by 16, with senior forward Tekia Mack leading the way with 26 points. Mack suffered an injury early in the season that kept her out for three games. She still led the team with 48 steals and was second with 50 assists. She averaged 10.9 PPG and 5.5 RPG.

Rutgers then brought down its first ranked opponent of the season in then-No. 21 Northwestern, again by a margin of 16. Sophomore forward Tyia Singleton contributed 17 points that game and finished the season with 6.7 PPG and 6.8 RPG.

Those two games were the beginning of a nine-game winning streak to close out the regular season, featuring seven double-digit margins of victory. Guirantes led the Knights for the season with 21.3 PPG, 98 assists and 34 blocks.

Down the stretch, senior forward Mael Gilles hit several clutch shots from deep to help Rutgers in some of the close games. She ended her campaign with 7.8 PPG, 4.3 RPG and is another starter who entered the transfer portal.

The Knights suffered defeats in their first game of both tournaments, their Big Ten loss coming against Iowa and their NCAA defeat to BYU.

“We will miss greatly the support and the leadership of our seniors,” Stringer said. “Had it not been for (the seniors), we wouldn’t have made it.”

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


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