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Rutgers women’s basketball off to best start in 14 years

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The Scarlet Knights finished non-conference play with a 10-1 record

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: NOV 13 Women’s Niagara at Rutgers Photo by John Jones/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Rutgers women’s basketball wrapped up its non-conference schedule with blow out victories over Southern and Marshall in the past week to move to 10-1 on the season. It’s the best start for the program in 14 years and they ride a six game winning streak into the holiday break. The Scarlet Knights have an almost two week break before their next game when they open Big Ten play at Wisconsin on Saturday, December 28th.

Last Thursday, Rutgers defeated Southern 78-58 and followed that up with a 66-41 defeat of Marshall on Sunday.

Arella Guirantes led the way against Southern (2-5) with 19 points, 5 assists, 3 blocks and 2 steals as the Scarlet Knights shot 54% from the floor and forced 22 turnovers. Tekia Mack also had a big game, finishing with 15 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals and a block.

On Sunday, Rutgers was shorthanded, as Guirantes, Zippy Broughton and Noga Peleg Pelc did not play. Guirantes and Broughton are dealing with minor injuries and were gametime decisions. Pelc was under the weather. All three players were kept out of action and with almost two weeks until the next game, will have time to recover.

In their absence, the Scarlet Knights saw five players score in double digits and ended the first quarter with a 24-2 lead, en route to a 66-41 victory over Marshall (5-5). Rutgers held the Herd to 22% shooting and dominated inside with a 30-4 advantage with points in the paint.

They were led by former 5-star recruit and freshman forward Maori Davenport leading the way with a career high 13 points on 6 of 9 shooting, as well as 7 rebounds. It was her 19th birthday, so it was quite the day with her breakout performance. Mack added 11 points, 8 rebounds, and 6 assists, while KK Sanders scored 12 points and dished out 8 assists for a second straight contest, with just 1 turnover overall during that two-game span. Mael Gilles added 11 points, 5 rebounds, and 2 steals, while Jordan Wallace had 10 points and 5 boards.

“We’re really proud of the team,” said head coach C. Vivian Stringer. “We were down some players because of injury, but everyone stepped up in a team effort. We clicked on mostly all cylinders today, and it came at a great time. We’re going to get some rest, we’re going to hammer down our rotations and patterns, and we’re going to be ready for the Big Ten.”

While the Scarlet Knights lost their biggest test of the season at LSU (8-2) on November 24th, they’ve won six straight games, including three high major victories and the Junkanoo Jam championship over Thanksgiving weekend. They are currently receiving votes in both the AP and Coaches Polls.

This team has the talent and depth to finish in the top five of the Big Ten and even challenge for the conference title, despite not being picked to finish that high in the preseason polls. Guirantes is the second leading scorer in the Big Ten, Mack provides toughness and versatility, KK Sanders is a strong floor leader, while Wallace and Gilles have provided solid play all season. Coming off the bench, Stringer has several options to plug in depending on the matchup and Davenport seems to be getting more comfortable as the season has progressed. In addition, former McDonald’s High School All-American and Big 12 All-Freshman honoree Alexis Morris will be eligible to play beginning on January 5th against Purdue after sitting out the past two semesters due to transfer rules.

Rutgers now has an almost two week break in game action before beginning Big Ten play on the road at Wisconsin (7-3) on Saturday, Dec. 28 at 3 p.m. ET. They’ll then return home for the Big Ten home opener on Tuesday, Dec. 31 at 3 p.m. against no. 12 Indiana (10-1). Stringer’s team will look to start off conference play on the right foot, as NCAA Tournament aspirations remain strong.