The Rutgers women’s basketball won its fourth straight conference game on Thursday night in Happy Valley, defeating Penn State 62-57. It wasn’t easy they started the game just 1 of 9 from the floor and then after holding a 9 point lead to begin the fourth quarter, it shrunk to just 1 point on three separate occasions in the closing minutes of the game. Arella Guirantes scored a basket and converted two free throws down the stretch, but left the game after being fouled in the closing seconds. Noga Peleg Pelc came off the bench and made two clutch free throws in her return from a lengthy absence to seal the victory.
Both teams shot 37% in the game and were relatively even from the free throw line (RU 11-14 78.6%; PSU 14-16 87.5%). The Scarlet Knights held a +5 turnover margin after Penn State (7-10; 1-5) committed 19 turnovers, which resulted in 15-11 edge in points off of them. RU won the battle inside as well, holding 34-28 advantage with points in the paint, a +5 rebounding margin while grabbing 16 offensive boards. It led to a 12-10 edge in second chance points.
Center Jordan Wallace led Rutgers with 12 points on 6 of 9 shooting and 9 rebounds, despite battling foul trouble most of the game. All of her points came in the third quarter during a four minute stretch, which pushed the Scarlet Knights lead back to double digits. KK Sanders scored 11 points on just 4 of 15 shooting, but dished out 7 assists, grabbed 6 boards and swiped 3 steals. Arella Guirantes struggled from the floor, making just 4 of 17 shots for 10 points while adding 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals and 2 blocked shots.
The bench did step up, as Tyia Singleton gave quality minutes with Wallace in foul trouble. She finished with 8 points on 3 of 4 shooting as well as 4 rebounds and a blocked shot. Noga Peleg Pelc also scored 8 points in her return, including going 2 of 3 from three-point range.
Rutgers held the Big Ten’s second-leading scorer coming into the game, Kamaria McDaniel, to only 11 points on 5-of-14 shooting. After Thursday’s matchup, both McDaniel and Guirantes are tied as the leading scorers in the Big Ten at 19.1 points per game.
It’s hard to complain about a Rutgers team that is now 15-2 on the season and tied for first place in the Big Ten with a 5-1 record. However, it’s fair to be concerned about the starters wearing down as the season progresses. The win over Nebraska on Sunday saw all five starters play over 30 minutes and they had to hang on for a four point victory after losing a double digit lead in the fourth quarter. On Thursday night, with the exception of Wallace, who played 24 minutes due to foul trouble, every other starter logged 34 or more minutes. That’s 83% of available minutes in the game. Rutgers led by double digits in the second half but wore down once again. The lead shrunk to just 1 point several times in the final minutes of the game, as Penn State shot 61.5% in the fourth quarter compared to 33.3% from RU. The trio of former 5-star recruits that include Alexis Morris, Zippy Broughton and Maori Davenport only played a combined 11 minutes in the game.
Hopefully, head coach C. Vivian Stringer will look more to her bench as Big Ten play continues, as the schedule will only get harder. The only conference team that Rutgers has played so far with a winning record in Big Ten play is no. 15 Indiana (14-4; 4-2), it’s lone loss, and have beaten three of four teams in the league tied for last place with 1-5 records. Even so, credit this team for the program’s best start since the 1990-1991 campaign. They have now held every opponent but one under their scoring average this season and are third in the nation in field goal percentage defense.
Up next, Rutgers hosts Michigan State (10-7; 3-3) on Monday at 6 p.m. before traveling to face Michigan (12-5; 3-3) in Ann Arbor on Sunday, January 26th at 2 p.m. Both games are crucial for Rutgers to continue to make a legitimate run at the program and school’s first Big Ten title ever.