Good evening, fellow travelers! We're coming to you on tape-delay and via circuitous methods from the RAC in New Jersey, as the Scarlet Knights of Rutgers (the State University of New Jersey) host the Wolverines of Michigan.
Your intrepid blogger is here via North Brooklyn, industrial Maspeth, and Highland Park. There have been many detours. And yet I'm here.
I don't know if I entirely like the revamped RAC. I don't like the compression of the banners. (Instead of separate banners for each NCAA appearance/S16/E8/conference title, each type of appearance has a banner. At least the Final Four banners, AIAW title, and WNIT championship banner each have their own space. They also compressed the WBHOF banners into one, and Eddie Jordan has a banner with a list of accomplishments as long as, but not as storied as, C. Vivian Stringer's.) It looks too much like they're trying not to look like a historical powerhouse in WBB.
The new scoreboards and stat boards are nice, though. The sound system's improved, too. So strange to look up at those Big Ten teams in the rafters, though. SO WRONG.
I like Kevin's arrangement of the anthem at St. John's better than the RU arrangement. They rock "Zoot Suit Riot".
At halftime, Rutgers is all over Michigan, 42-25. Betnijah Laney has 13 points and what feels like more than 4 rebounds. Michigan is rattled, and badly. Rutgers is playing the passing lanes really well, and they're making all the plays on the glass.
I'm pretty sure the refs are actually watching Tulsa-UConn. Lots of missed calls on both ends of the floor, and the calls that have been made have been weaksauce.
Whatever else RU has, they have the most talented ball kids. One of the older girls has range clear out to the three-point line.
Might not agree with Rutgers on much anymore, but the band booed Penn State during the Big Ten ad, and I am all in favor booing Penn State in all the things, except maybe sometimes when they play Ohio State, because me and Ohio State, we got history even before I went blue.
Lots of Michigan people here, and not just families and friends. There's a smattering of maize and blue throughout the RAC. They were depressingly quiet through most of the game, though.
All the work they did on the RAC and they couldn't adjust the leg room?
Much like the flow of Rutgers-North Carolina, there were big runs- but Michigan does not have the talent of North Carolina, and Rutgers was able to push the lead out late with some key baskets and stifling defense.
There's a fair amount of potential in the freshmen on that Michigan bench. I like the hustle, and the size, on Jillian Dunston- needs to work on her positioning, but she's solid on the boards. Katelynn Flaherty has a lightning-quick release, but a quick release doesn't mean much if you can't hit the shot, and her shots did not look good tonight. She looked like a lost little freshman on defense, tentative on both ends of the floor. Terra Stapleton brought size and a reckless touch. She got burned badly on defense, though it wasn't completely her fault- the entire play seemed to freeze. Madison Ristovski provided a somewhat surer hand on offense off the bench.
I'm pretty sure Kim Barnes Arico spent most of the game alternately thinking good things and thinking terrible things of Shannon Smith. I know I alternated between cheering for her sharp drives and all-out hustle, and swearing inside my head at her questionable passes, stupid fouls, and bad shots. She and Cyesha Goree had a fantastic connection going on all night. She was careless with the ball, which is not of the good when you're playing lead guard. Danielle Williams made some nifty defensive plays. Siera Thompson got hot quick in the first half to get Michigan into thinking they could get back into the game, and I side-eyed her second foul in the first half (the always tricksy block/charge). Nicole Elmblad was very quiet. Go up strong with the ball, Nicole! I think she was a marked woman by the Rutgers defense, and she played like it. Cyesha Goree got burned a few times on defense- as fast as she was, Rutgers was faster, and a lot of posts are bigger than she is- but she put in work around the basket on the offense, going strong to the hoop and finishing, or picking off boards when she or her teammates couldn't finish.
Michigan was horribly, horribly sloppy. Too many lazy passes. Too many lazy turnovers. Granted, that tends to happen when you run into the teeth of a Stringer defense, but Rutgers didn't even have to break out the press for most of the game. The turnovers were coming in the halfcourt and coming at the basket.
Brief minutes in both halves for Christa Evans, spelling Rachel Hollivay when she was done spelling Ariel Butts. She didn't do much, but she made her big body useful. Cynthia Hernandez got a little run in the first half. I think she shot a three. Shrita Parker made some bad plays on defense, but beat the shot clock buzzer twice. I developed a bit of a distaste for her after the second one, but I tend not to like players who hit buzzer-beaters on me. Respect, yes. Like, not necessarily. Rachel Hollivay played less than I expected- I'm not sure if the whole bench thing is an ongoing thing, or a thing wherein Coach Stringer does not approve of a thing, or if she has a thing about posts. She's a bruiser down there, but deceptively fast on her feet for her size, and you do not want to be in her way.
Kahleah Copper spends a lot of time looking at her shot. Her shot is not that pretty that she should stand there admiring it. I thought she would have had more rebounds than she ended up with. Tyler Scaife is absolutely remarkable. She's got all the tools- the jumper, the drive, the wicked crossover, the vision, the maturity (she was quick to give Parker a pep talk after a defensive play that didn't go as the Scarlet Knights planned). She's got grit, and she's got flash. I don't love watching Betnijah Laney rebound the way I love watching Amber Thompson or Bra'Shey Ali rebound, but she's interesting to watch, especially when she's preparing to rebound a free throw- she gets down real low like a runner, and then bursts upward. She's got a bit of a mean streak- I don't think the elbow to Shannon Smith's face was intentional, but it was blatant- and nice touch around the basket and from the midrange. Her build reminds me a little of Monique Currie. Syessence Davis was a catalyst on both ends of the floor. Getting her in foul trouble helped for Michigan (and she dodged a major bullet after her fourth foul- Stringer didn't have the sub up in time, so she was still in with four; Michigan tried to draw the foul from her, but she read the play and made the defensive switch, which eventually gave Rutgers time to bring in Parker). Ariel Butts played briefly but hard in the post. That's a lot of woman down low, and she's not afraid to bump players out of her way.
Rutgers jumped the passing lanes beautifully, and they were all over every loose ball. Michigan made plenty of mistakes by themselves, but Rutgers forced them to think, and to hesitate, and to then act without thinking.
The refereeing was... interesting. It was at least consistent, which is the bare minimum expectation I have trained myself for, but it was flat out bad. And it was bad on both sides. Shannon Smith should have fouled out even before the fourth that was called on her. Lots and lots of contact with no calls, but ticky-tack hand-checks were called. It took a full review and KBA about to flip her lid at the ref for the elbow by Betnijah Laney that laid out Shannon Smith to be called.
It was good to see the gang again, and good to see what KBA's doing at Michigan. They still need some polishing, but I'm pretty sure they'll take lessons from this game into the next one.