Around this time last year, there were more than a few people who thought - maybe demanded would be a better term - that C. Vivian Stringer should be gone from the Rutgers sideline.
Oh, what a difference a year makes.
As the men prepare for their last game before the holiday tonight, the women have a break until next Thursday. And I’m okay if they sit on their laurels for a bit.
Currently, the women are 12-2 and riding a seven game win streak. They next play in their Big Ten opener against Purdue at the RAC on 12/28. It’s a 2 pm tip.
Compare that to last year when the team was 3-10 and had lost 4 of 5, including a 30 point loss to Princeton. Like this year, they would begin the B1G schedule on 12/28 at Michigan, a 63-50 loss. And the finish was an 11 game losing streak.
As I said, what a difference a year makes.
One key part of that difference is senior Tyler Scaife, the team’s leading scorer, who last season had a medical redshirt. She is now only 92 points from 2,000 for her career, something that is very doable at her current pace.
Getting 1,900 points in a career is pretty remarkable but #RHoops' Tyler Scaife makes it even more impressive reaching the milestone with the steal and the behind the back bucket #SCTop10 pic.twitter.com/6LFcSXcUAO— Rutgers W.Basketball (@RutgersWBB) December 17, 2017
Scaife is only part of the turnaround. Playing sometimes as few as eight players last year, with virtually no senior leadership, the Knights were not very good on either end of the floor. This year, with far more experience and depth, the team spreads the wealth - and the ball - far more than was possible last season.
Ah, the return of the 55 defense! I’ll admit, I felt that it seemed as if teams had figured out Stringer’s famed pressing defense. Mea culpa! Maybe it’s not just a coincidence that opponents are only averaging 55 ppg, down from over 61 last year. And the scoring by the Knights is up almost two ppg, as well. Last year, RU scored over 70 only once, and that in a loss to JMU. This year, they’ve scored 75+ six times while keeping opponents under 60 on nine occasions.
Tyler Scaife’s leadership - and dominance - cannot be understated. She has made the Big Ten’s weekly honor roll twice already. And while her 21.2 ppg tops the squad, she has help. Redshirt Sophomore Ciani Cryor (7.7 ppg) and senior Jazlynd Rollins (7.7) ease the burden with their points. The team is out-rebounding its opponents and is holding opponents under 37% from the field.
Maybe the most visible proof that Rutgers women’s hoops is back is in the national polls. While not in the Top 25, the Knights are receiving votes, five in the most recent Associated Press poll. And as the Big Ten portion of the schedule approaches, it’s worth noting that there are only four conference teams in the AP Top 25 - Ohio State (12), Maryland (15), Michigan (23), and Iowa (25). No one else got votes except the team in scarlet.
What a difference a year makes.