The Rutgers women’s basketball team earned its first trip to the NCAA Tournament in four seasons on Monday, as they were selected as the 7 seed in the Albany Region. They will face the 10 seeded Buffalo Bulls (23-9), who won the MAC Tournament Championship earlier this month by beating three conference opponents they had lost to previously this season. They finished in fourth place in the MAC regular season, but earned an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament by winning the postseason conference tournament.
The game is Friday, March 22nd at 4:30 p.m. ET at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs, Connecticut. The first round contest will air live on ESPN2.
The Bulls are led by star guard Cierra Dillard, whose 25.4 points per game average is second highest in the country, trailing only Big Ten Player of the Year Megan Gustafson of Iowa, who defeated Rutgers twice this season. Dillard is prolific from three-point range, having made 98 of 287 attempts for 34.1% this season. In addition, she averages 5.7 assists, 4.9 rebounds and 2.8 steals per game.
With an overall record of 22-9, Rutgers won the most games since the 2014-15 season when they finished 23-10, which includes an appearance in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. By finishing in third place in the Big Ten, Rutgers produced its best performance since joining the league five years ago. The Scarlet Knights went 4-4 against Big Ten teams that made the NCAA Tournament, beating them all except for Iowa.
This team is one win away from producing the 500th victory in Hall of Fame Head Coach C. Vivian Stringer’s tenure at Rutgers. While it was hoped she would return in time from a medical leave of absence for the NCAA Tournament, it was announced last week that her doctors advised her to remain on leave. Stringer intends to return to the program this offseason.
Longtime Stringer assistant Tim Eatman has served as acting head coach and has led Rutgers to a 4-2 record in her absence. Note that the wins count on Stringer’s record per NCAA rules, which is why a first round victory would equal 500 for her Rutgers career.
The Scarlet Knights are led by Second Team All-Big Ten forward Stasha Carey and Honorable Mention All-Big Ten guard Arella Guirantes. Despite starting point guard CC Cryor and reserve forward Caitlin Jenkins having been dismissed from the team toward the end of the regular season, Rutgers has won 4 of its last 5 games.
If Rutgers is victorious in the first round against Buffalo, they would be in line to face the 2nd seeded UConn Huskies (31-2) on Sunday. Led by legendary head coach Geno Auriemma, UConn was ranked 2nd in the country the final eight weeks of the season and this will be the first time they haven’t been a 1 seed in 13 years. They are arguably the best team seeded 2nd in years, perhaps ever. Regardless, Rutgers needs to take care of business against Buffalo on Friday and can then worry about the daunting task that awaits them. The first and second round games will be played in Storrs, Connecticut on the Huskies home floor.
We’ll have a full game preview ahead of Friday’s first round game between no. 7 Rutgers and no. 10 Buffalo.
(Note: The NCAA Tournament bracket was supposed to be announced by ESPN at 7 p.m. ET, but they accidentally leaked it earlier this afternoon. Instead, they officially unveiled the bracket two hours earlier on ESPN2.)