The Rutgers women’s basketball team’s season came to an end on Monday in losing in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. The no. 6 seeded Scarlet Knights lost to no. 11 seeded BYU (19-5) by the final score of 69-66 in San Marcos, Texas.
Rutgers led BYU 49-37 with 2:10 remaining in the third quarter, but they were outscored 32-17 in the final 12 minutes of the game. After falling behind by 4 points, Arella Guirantes hit a three with 1:04 left to cut the lead to 1. However, the Cougars were fouled from behind the arc with the shot clock winding down off of an offensive rebound on its next possession. Shaylee Gonzalez made all three free throws with 30 seconds to play to seal the fate of the Scarlet Knights.
“I thought our attitude was great and we fought, but sometimes you miss some shots in this game,” Rutgers head coach C. Vivian Stringer said. “We were right there on the press, we got them to fold. They got a few breaks, but nothing to take away from BYU and their coaches. They did a great job. I was disappointed that we couldn’t hit more shots in a physical game, which we’re usually ready for playing in the Big Ten.”
Rutgers shot 46.8% from the floor, including 5 of 12 for 41.7% from three-point range and held BYU to just 37.0% shooting. However the Cougars were 9 of 23 from three for 39.1% and were a stellar 20 of 23 for 87.0% from the free throw line, while the Scarlet Knights were 17 of 23 for 73.9% from the line.
A big issue was Rutgers committing 20 turnovers and even though they forced BYU into 19, the Cougars took advantage with 22-13 edge in points off of turnovers. Despite RU having a +3 rebounding margin, BYU held a 14-11 advantage in offensive rebounds, cashing in with a 18-11 edge in second chance points.
In her last game in a Rutgers uniform, Guirantes did everything she could to prolong this team’s stay in the NCAA Tournament. She scored baskets to cut the deficit to one possession three times in the final four minutes of play. She finished with 30 points on 10 of 18 shooting, as well as 6 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 steals. Guirantes did commit 7 turnovers in the loss. She finishes her career in ninth place all-time in program history with 1,696 points.
“It hurts,” Guirantes said. “I’m going to be sad about it now, in the moment. But there are things to get ready for. This team has big things to get ready for, and I’m still a leader, I’m not gone yet. I have to show them you have to feel the pain, and use it as motivation to get through your next obstacle. I am so grateful I finished my career here, got to play for Coach Stringer, Coach Eatman, with these women, and to be part of the sisterhood and unity that we have here.””
“She’s one of the greatest players I’ve coached,” Stringer said. “Her leadership is amazing.”
Diamond Johnson finished her standout freshman campaign with 13 points on 5 of 7 shooting, including 2 of 2 from three-point range. She added 4 rebounds, 3 steals and 2 assists. Tekia Mack had 11 points and 4 rebounds, but also committed 6 turnovers. Tyia Singleton added 4 points, 7 rebounds and 2 steals, while Mael Gilles 2 points, 3 rebounds, 3 steals and 2 assists.
Foul trouble was another issue, as Mack fouled out, Guirantes had 4, while Singleton and Gilles had 3.
Rutgers finishes the season with an overall record of 14-5. It was a challenging season with a five week pause due to COVID-19 issues within the program, but the team responded really well coming out of the break. They entered the postseason on a nine game winning streak and finished in third place in the Big Ten. However, they lost its opening game in both the Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments, which is a disappointing end to the season. The Scarlet Knights made its second consecutive appearance in the NCAA Tournament, but RU last won in March Madness in 2015.
Head coach C. Vivian Stringer has led Rutgers to the NCAA Tournament 17 times in 26 seasons on the banks and were set to make it last season as well before it was cancelled due to COVID-19.
“There’s a lot of things I will take from this season to build for the next season,” Stringer said. “There’s a tremendous amount of maturity that it takes. Young people today have got to accept responsibility a little bit more, and that’s a fact. That’s what we will intend to grow with.”