Piscataway, NJ — It was a battle of who was the most improved in the Big 10 as the Nebraska Cornhuskers traveled to Rutgers Athletic Complex to take on the No. 24 Rutgers Scarlet Knights.
Thanks to some rock solid defense and efficient rebounding, the Cornhuskers (14-6, 5-2 Big Ten) upset No. 25 Rutgers (17-5, 5-3 Big Ten) 52-42.
This snapped the Scarlet Knights’ 12 game win streak at the RAC, and ended up in what is now a two-game losing streak. While Rutgers clawed and battled their way back into the game down the stretch, it wasn’t enough to overcome the Huskers’ consistent ball movement and offensive success.
“We proved to ourselves that we can win in a different style of play and that’s something we’re really proud of,” said Nebraska Cornhuskers head coach Amy Williams.
From the start, one could notice a lack of urgency on Rutgers’ court production. Nebraska came out hot in the first quarter jabbing at defensive steals and whipping from each end of the court at ease.
The Scarlet Knights were only able to keep up to par for so long, and by the halfway point of the second quarter they had fallen behind by 9 points.
It wasn’t until the end of the second when graduate guard Nigia Greene drained a three-pointer that the momentum began to sway back on Rutger’s side. But by the end of the frame, Rutgers was only shooting 9-29, and things didn’t get any better for them.
“I thought that we missed a lot of shots and that we weren’t executing the patterns to even understand what we’re trying to get with them,” Rutgers head coach Vivian Stringer said.
Going into halftime, Rutgers was down 27-22 and had no answers for the nonstop Nebraska assault.
Nebraska, on the other hand, pounded the paint over and over to start the third quarter, utilizing star freshman center Kate Cain’s 6’5" towering stature to their advantage. Overall, almost 62% of all the Cornhuskers’ points came from inside the paint.
“I think Kate Cain did a great job at establishing herself early and our players found her a couple times early in the paint, and she was really able to be a presence in there for us,” coach Williams said.
At this point in the game, the presence of Rutgers on the court was isolated to just one player, that being Scarlet Knights star guard Tyler Scaife. She lit it up once again to tally her 14th 20-point game of the season, but it looked like she was going to beat Nebraska by herself.
A vital piece to this Rutgers’ backcourt is redshirt junior Stasha Carey, who averages at least seven points a game. In this matchup, she only shot 2-for-10 and had five points. No other player produced on the court, and there was a general lack of cohesion in the Scarlet Knights’ offense.
Ultimately, Rutgers got one last chance midway through the fourth quarter to try and rally, but even those efforts were lack lustered and Nebraska ran away with it.
“We gotta really recommit together as a team and really look at each other to see what we can come up with,” Coach Stringer said after the loss.
Nebraska was able to maintain such control the entire game by having multiple players execute. Kate Cain (14 pts, 8 rebs, 3 blks) led the team in scoring, but it was senior guard Jasmine Cincore that really inserted the adrenaline into the Cornhuskers’ offense with 11 points, 7 rebounds, and an assist.
“We just had a lot of different people that were able to step up and make big baskets,” coach Williams beamed about her team. She singled out Cincore and sophomore guard Nicea Eliely as key players that sparked the team during the game.
Not only were they efficiently scoring, but also rebounding. Nebraska destroyed Rutgers on the glass, out-rebounding them 40 to 29.
Although this loss is an upset of sorts, the one person it didn’t come as much as a surprise to was Coach Stringer.
“I’m not surprised. I think that we were poised for that. It’s the way we’ve been practicing,” coach Stringer said, as she later noted that there have been “stresses and distractions” that have prevented the team from focusing in practice.
Rutgers made costly mistakes and Nebraska took advantage, coming out the victor of the “no longer only winning a handful of games” match up.
That is something the Rutgers team will need to address quickly before they hit the road to go up against the Indiana Hoosiers on Jan. 27.
Nebraska will seek to continue beating ranked teams to prove their stature, facing Purdue next on Jan. 24 back at home.