By James Stumper Jr.
STORRS, CT — One year ago, the Rutgers women’s basketball program was feeling snubbed by the NCAA, uninvited to their marquis postseason basketball event. Now, with March Madness upon us once more, the Scarlet Knights have an opportunity to prove they belonged all along.
After clinching the Women’s NIT in 2014 and a solid inaugural regular season in the Big Ten, the Scarlet Knights will look to build on that success in their 24th ever appearance in the big dance. They enter the tournament a #8 seed with a 22-9 record, and will look for win #23 tomorrow night against in-state rival Seton Hall at UConn’s Gampel Pavilion.
The winner of the all-New Jersey matchup will likely get the pleasure of facing #1 seed UConn, whose first-round matchup is against St. Francis-Brooklyn.
Before Rutgers can focus on that, however, it’s all about how they will handle Seton Hall. The Pirates are loaded with experience, as their starting lineup includes three different graduate students.
“They’re an outstanding team,” said Head Coach C. Vivian Stringer, “they’re very experienced.”
That experience could pose a problem for Rutgers, but they’re feeling pretty confident with the familiar competition. Both Seton Hall and Connecticut are former conference rivals, and RU knocked off Seton Hall in a thrilling 91-79 double-OT WNIT third-round victory last March at the RAC.
While some feel Rutgers got the short end of the stick playing an in-state rival in round one and a longtime nemesis (potentially) in round two, the Scarlet Knights are excited to have the chance.
“We’re familiar with our competition,” said senior Betnijah Laney, “We know what we have to do, and we know what they’re capable of.”
Laney has been one of Rutgers’ best players this season, posting 19 double-doubles on the year, good for 10th in the country. Her Rutgers career is coming to an end, and she will look to build on her impressive 34 career double-doubles, and try to get her first-ever NCAA Tournament game win in the process.
Another key player for the Scarlet Knights who met the media Friday is junior Kahleah Copper. The team’s leading scorer during conference play, Copper averaged 17.4 ppg against Big Ten competition.
Copper told the media the team is, “excited to be a part of the NCAA Tournament,” and that it is “cool to be reuinted with Seton Hall.”
It’s an all-Garden State matchup in the first round, and C. Vivian Stringer called it an “honor” to have two teams from New Jersey competing in tournament play.
As for the game itself, expect a tightly-contested matchup. Rutgers boasts the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year in senior Syessence Davis, and Seton Hall’s Daisha Simmons holds the same honor in the Big East.
One x-factor for Stringer’s Scarlet Knights is dynamic sophomore scorer Tyler Scaife, whose postseason heroics at the end of the WNIT final last season have her confident heading into this year’s postseason.
“We feel like we should have gone to the NCAA’s last year,” said Scaife, “so we feel like we’ve got a chance to prove ourselves.”
The game will tip off at 6:30 pm tomorrow night, and you can hear it on 88.7 FM or radio.rutgers.edu. Chris Morales and James Stumper Jr. will have the play-by-play for WRSU.
Make to follow @WRSUSports on Twitter for updates throughout the weekend.