Rutgers Lineup Shuffle Yields Third Straight Win
By Mel Greenberg
PISCATAWAY, N.J. _ Rutgers didn’t have Essence Carson for Saturday night’s nonconference matchup for Iowa at the Louis A. Brown Athletic Center.
The Scarlet Knights’ junior guard had suffered a mild concussion and abdominal injury during Tuesday night’s suspenseful triple overtime victory here against Mississippi.
Coach C. Vivian Stringer didn’t have junior guard Matee Ajavon anywhere near full recovery yet from a stress fracture, although she is on the floor ahead of schedule.
And freshman Dee Dee Jernigan continues to miss action due to a stress fracture.
But the Scarlet Knights did have several things to give Stringer some delight heading into the holiday break after a solid 70-53 over the Hawkeyes.
Although having to go with a fourth different starting lineup since the season got under way, this one led to a third-straight victory in a game in which Rutgers (5-4) did not wilt from a 20-point lead midway through the second half.
That’s what happened Tuesday until the freshmen and sophomore center Kia Vaughn hung tough in the extended game to save the Scarlet Knights.
“Right now it’s a case of whatever we can steal,” Stringer said of having to navigate one of the nation’s top out-of-league schedules until heading into the heart of competition in the rugged Big East Conference.
The victory made it two straight for Stringer over the Hawkeyes she brought to national prominence in the mid-1980s. She took the Rutgers job here in the summer of 1995.
Freshman Epiphanny Prince led the Rutgers scoring parade Saturday night with 18 points against the Hawkeyes (7-4). Brittany Ray, the freshman Bronx bomber, fired away again with a 4-for-5 effort on three-point attempts and 14 points overall. Prince also had six of the Scarlet Knights’ 13 steals.
Vaughn, who helped Rutgers’ 32-10 domination on the inside, finished with 16 points.
“They’re learning, that’s what you want,” Stringer said of her group, which has won three straight “It has to be encouraging for the upper classmen as the injuries heal and we get ready to get into the Big East.
“The freshmen are getting some valuable time and it’s very clearly there is no bench, it’s just how we want to play it,” Stringer said of Rutgers’ strategical approach. ”Do we want to start with two posts or start with players with given skills to match the talent we’re playing against.
“What was most important today is we really made a focused, concentrated effort to play defense,” Stringer added. “We really did and we’ll get better.”
The Rutgers coach built her Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame reputation on defense, a quality that had been missing during the Scarlet Knights’ early struggles.
Iowa is also dealing with injuries.
“We both are struggling with huge injury problems,” Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. “And I’m not feeling sorry for any seniors, either. My only senior (Johanna Solverson) is out with an ACL injury.”
Megan Skouby scored 19 points for the Hawkeyes and Wendy Ausdemore added 15 points.
Rutgers jumped to a 24-6 lead in the first half and finished the first 20 minutes ahead, 35-22.
The advantage grew to its widest margin at 63-40 with 4 minutes, 28 seconds left in the game.
Prince, who scored 113 points in a high school game last season in New York to set a national record, is the only Rutgers players this season to score in double digits in all nine games.
Rutgers is off until Dec. 30 when the Scarlet Knights will travel to Old Dominion in Norfolk, Va. The game will be a homecoming of sorts for assistant coach Marianne Stanley who led the Monarchs to three national championships in her first job as a head coach in a Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame career.