On Thursday night at the RAC, the Rutgers women’s basketball team completed a season series sweep of Penn State, winning 72-39. It was the second lowest point total that the Scarlet Knights held a Big Ten opponent since joining the league. It was a great response after a hard fought double overtime loss at Minnesota last Sunday.
Behind the program’s most dominant performance ever on the boards in Big Ten play with a +23 rebounding margin, RU controlled the game in the paint. 14 offensive rebounds led to a 20-2 advantage with second chance points, as well as 40-22 with points in the paint. The Scarlet Knights shot 52% from the field in the victory and held Penn State to just 32%.
Arella Guirantes produced her fourth double-double of the season with 24 points and 10 rebounds. She was 7 of 9 shooting and 9 of 12 from the foul line, while adding 4 assists, 2 blocks and a steal. Jordan Wallace made 6 of 7 shots for 12 points, as well as added 4 rebounds and a block. KK Sanders has 10 points on just 3 of 12 shooting and 3 assists. Zippy Broughton made her first start of the season and produced a line of 9 points on 4 of 10 shooting, as well as 5 steals, 3 rebounds and 2 assists. The versatile Tekia Mack finished with 6 points, game highs of 11 rebounds and 7 assists, as well as 3 steals and a block.
Rutgers had a +4 turnover margin and 24-9 advantage in points off of turnovers. It was a complete performance for head coach C. Vivian Stringer’s team.
The Scarlet Knights are now 17-5 this season with a 7-4 record in conference play. Currently in fifth place in the Big Ten with seven regular season games to play, Rutgers has three of its next four on the road. While they are 4-0 against Illinois and Penn State, who both only have 1 league win this season, RU is just 3-4 against the rest of the Big Ten. They still have games against the top three teams in the standings, Maryland, Iowa, and Northwestern.
One concern remains the heavy minutes that the starters have been playing. In the blowout win over Penn State on Thursday night, Guirantes played 39 minutes, Sanders played 38 and Mack played 37. It’s fair to question why considering Rutgers was leading by 23 points entering the fourth quarter. Depth is a concern with guards Alexis Morris and Joiya Maddox out with leg injuries and Noga Peleg Pelc on a personal leave. Keeping everyone healthy down the stretch of this season is certainly a challenge in its own right. However, senior guard Danielle Migliore played just 6 minutes and usual starter Mael Gilles, who can play on the perimeter as well as the interior, saw only 14 minutes of action. Keeping Guirantes fresh as the calendar changes from February to March is very important for the success of this team.
Rutgers is looking to return to the NCAA Tournament for the second straight year and will need to play well against a challenging schedule down the stretch to make it. It’s latest RPI ranking of 46, which was before the Penn State win, puts them squarely on the bubble. Charlie Creme of ESPN latest projections from earlier this week had Rutgers slated as a 9 seed, which is encouraging.
The Scarlet Knights will now head on the road for a noon showdown on Sunday against no. 13/12 Maryland (19-4; 10-2), who are tied with the Hawkeyes for first place in the Big Ten. What follows are rematches against Michigan State (11-11; 4-7) on the road and Michigan (15-7; 6-5) at home, two teams below Rutgers in the standings that they’ve already lost to this season. A trip to no. 21/23 Northwestern (19-3; 9-2) follows. A home game game against Ohio State (13-9; 6-5) followed by a road trip to Wisconsin (11-12; 3-9) sets up the regular season finale at the RAC against no. 20 Iowa (19-4; 10-2). The total conference record of remaining opponents is 48-32.
Keeping Guirantes playing at the high level she is, continuing to get inside production from Wallace and Mack, as well as the team continuing to play great defense (6th in nation in field goal percentage defense) are keys to finishing this season strong. The good news is they have plenty of opportunities remaining to improve its standing in the Big Ten and potential seeding in the NCAA Tournament.