The Rutgers women’s basketball team suffered its first loss at the RAC this season on Sunday, losing the rematch to now no. 7 Maryland by double digits. The Terps jumped out to a 18-2 lead to start the game and never looked back. They led by 19 points entering the fourth quarter before winning by the final score of 62-48. Maryland got payback for a loss on their home court on New Year’s Eve.
Rutgers shot just 34.0% from the field, including just 2 of 16 from three-point range, were -11 on the boards, committed 19 turnovers and were outscored in transition 17-8. While the defense continues to be stout, holding Maryland to 14 points below its scoring average and forced 23 turnovers, the offense has struggled mightily the past two games, both double digit losses.
With a 17-6 record overall and 9-3 mark in Big Ten play, here is where Rutgers stands with six regular season games remaining.
• Entering the game one win behind Maryland (22-2; 11-2) in the win column for first place, the Scarlet Knights fell 1.5 games behind the Terps with the loss and are now in third place, one win behind Iowa (19-5; 10-3).
• Rutgers owns a 2.5 game lead for third place over four other Big Ten teams that they are 3-0 against this season and have just one game remaining within that group (at Michigan on February 21st).
• Of the six conference regular season games remaining, only one opponent has a winning record in Big Ten play (Michigan 7-6; 16-9 overall). Full schedule here.
• They do play last year’s Big Ten regular season champion Ohio State (10-12; 6-7) twice still.
• Despite back to back losses, Rutgers is currently ranked 23rd in this week’s AP Poll, dropping three spots from the previous rankings.
• In the latest RPI rankings, Rutgers is rated 19th, falling four spots after the loss to Maryland.
So what does it all mean? The Rutgers women’s basketball team is still very much in control of its own postseason destiny and has a relatively favorable remaining schedule. There is no doubt this hasn’t been the same team on the offensive end or on the glass since the indefinite suspension of Caitlin Jenkins over a week ago. Jenkins averaged a solid 6.0 points on 57.0% shooting, as well as 6.8 rebounds and 1 steal per game. Her low post presence has been sorely missed. Rutgers also has a -24 rebounding margin in the two games she has missed.
The bigger issue is how poorly Rutgers has shot in the past two games. The Scarlet Knights were shooting 43.0% from the floor for the season before the past two losses, when they made only 37 of 109 shot from the field for 33.9%. In addition, Rutgers is also just 5 of 35 for 14.3% from three point range in the two losses, after averaging 31.9% on 17 attempts per game from behind the arc before this current slump.
The reality is every team falls into shooting slumps throughout the season. This team is proving to be no exception, but there is still time to recover and finish the regular season on a strong note, whether Jenkins returns or not.
With a strong core group comprised of Stasha Carey (12.3 points, 6.1 rebounds, 1.6 blocks, 1.5 steals), Arella Guirantes (11.0 points, 4.1 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.1 steals), CC Cryor (8.9 points, 3.3 assists, 2.8 rebounds, 1.5 steals) and Charise Wilson (7.5 points, 2.6 assists, 2.2 rebounds, 1.1 steals), Rutgers has plenty of frontline talent remaining.
While it’s fair to be concerned after last season’s team started with an 16-2 record, only to lose ten of its last fourteen games to finish 20-12 and outside of the NCAA Tournament, this year’s squad is more balanced and has a significantly less challenging schedule remaining. However, Rutgers needs to regroup and take care of business the rest of the way, starting this Thursday night at the RAC against Ohio State. If the Scarlet Knights can do that, they’ll be in line to make its first NCAA Tournament appearance in four seasons.