Washington looking to build off Stringer success at Rutgers

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: JAN 06 Women's Penn State at Rutgers
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PISCATAWAY, N.J. – Coquese Washington isn’t looking to replace C. Vivian Stringer as the women’s basketball coach at Rutgers. That’s an impossible task.

Stringer, a Hall of Famer, won more than 1,000 games in 50 years and went to the Final Four four times with three different teams – Cheyney State, Iowa and Rutgers.

The 51-year-old Washington admitted as much Tuesday after being introduced as the Scarlet Knights’ third full-time women’s head coach in nearly 40 years. A three-time Big Ten Conference coach of the year during a 12-year stint at Penn State, Washington said Stringer inspired her on and off the court. Washington’s goal is to build off the retired 74-year-old’s accomplishments and get Rutgers back to the NCAA Tournament as soon as possible.

“What’s going to be consistent is that determination to be excellent, the determination to give to your players and the importance of building those relationships,” Washington told a small crowd at Jersey Mike’s Arena.

Washington faces a major challenge next season after getting the job late, roughly three weeks after Stringer retired. She takes over a team that went 11-20 overall and 3-14 in the Big Ten under Tim Eatman this past season. He ran the team last season after Stringer decided not to coach because of concerns over COVID-19.

For now, the Rutgers roster is uncertain because of the transfer portal. There are three players returning, two incoming freshmen, four others in the portal, and a transfer who has not finalized her commitment.

Athletic director Pat Hobbs said he understands the problem and promised to be patient. He also said Washington, who was the associate head coach at Nortre Dame for the past two seasons, aced the virtual interview. She was the only candidate brought on campus for a second interview.

Hobbs had kept track of prospective coaches during the season, but the search never started until Stringer announced her retirement.

A former WNBA player and champion, Washington got a six-year contract that guarantees total compensation of $4.625 million with additional performance incentives.

The news conference was not only attended by some Rutgers women’s fans. Three Notre Dame players, who live locally, were also there: Dara Mabry, Natalijia Marshall and Olivia Miles.

“She’s so much more than a coach,” Mabry said. “She’s a lawyer. She’s really, really smart, very knowledgeable. A role model, especially for me. I know she’s going to be a role model to these girls. They’re really, really lucky to have her.”

Mabry said Washington even surprised Irish players at times on the court while working with them.

“Every now and then in practice, she would go fast and we would be like, `Whoa,”‘ Mabry said. “We weren’t expecting her to, like, still be able to move like that.”

Washington is returning to the head coaching ranks for the first time since 2018-19, her final season at Penn State. The stint produced three Big Ten titles and three coach of the year honors.

It also ended with only one winning season in the past five. It was something she attributed partially to outside issues, recruiting problems following the conviction of former Nittany Lions’ assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky in 2012 for sexual abuse.

After spending a year as associate head coach under Sherri Coale at Oklahoma, Washington returned to her alma mater and worked two seasons at Notre Dame under Niele Ivey.

“I’ve been able to learn and grow a lot,” said Washington, who also served as president of the WNBA Players Association before getting back into coaching. “I wasn’t in a rush to be a head coach again, and it had to be the right opportunity. And this was that, this was that right opportunity.”

Still, replacing Stringer promises to be a challenge.

“I just want to be somebody that she will look and I say: `You know, you did a good job.’ “

No. 13 Wisconsin edges Rutgers 66-61, takes Big Ten lead

Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports
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PISCATAWAY, N.J. – While they weren’t the preseason favorite to win the Big Ten Conference, Wisconsin coach Greg Gard said that’s been his team’s goal since the start of the season.

Win the next game, and the No. 13 Badgers (23-5, 14-4) will have the regular-season title.

“This group has had a Big Ten championship in their sights since we started in the offseason,” Gard said Saturday night after Wisconsin took over first place with a hard-fought 66-61 road win over Rutgers. “This is a group that’s stayed the course and continued to take it one day at a time.”

As usual, Johnny Davis led the way, scoring 15 of his 19 points in the second half. He had a lot of help as Brad Davison added 14 points, Chucky Hepburn had 13 and Tyler Wahl had 11 in helping the Badgers win their fourth straight game and improve to 14-1 in games decided by six points or less.

Wisconsin can win the title on Tuesday when it plays host to No. 4 Purdue, which lost to Michigan State. The Badgers won the earlier meeting.

“You know, we got a big win Tuesday,” Davis said. “Obviously, Purdue is a really good team and we know we’re playing for that game.”

Geo Baker had 16 of his 19 points in the second half to lead Rutgers (16-12, 10-8), but missed a game-tying 3-point attempt with four seconds to play.

Ron Harper Jr. added 15 points for the Scarlet Knights, who have now lost three in a row after a four-game winning streak – all against ranked teams.

“The way we played in the second half was the way we played in beating four ranked teams in a row,” Harper said. “The way we played in the first half was the way we played in losing the last three games.”

Trailing by 11 at the half, Rutgers rallied in the final 20 minutes and took its first lead at 51-50 on a foul-line jumper by Baker. The lead changed hands before Davis, who was frustrated by non-calls most of the game, drove the lane for a layup with 5:39 to play for a 56-55 edge. Hepburn would add a 3-pointer less than a minute later and Wisconsin led 59-55.

“I figured I would get a call sooner or later,” Davis said, who finished 6 of 19 from the field. “You know, they gave me a few in the second half, but it was really frustrating because Caleb McConnell was a really good defender.”

A layup by Wahl after a free throw by Rutgers’ Cliff Omoruyi made it 61-56 but Rutgers never got closer than 63-61 after Harper hit a 3-pointer with 28 second to play. A free throw by Wahl five seconds later gave Rutgers on last shot but Baker missed it.

Baker was not made available to the media after the game, but teammates noted he was the reason the game was close at the end.

Wisconsin built a 33-23 halftime lead and it was Davison and Hepburn who carried the load. Davison hit three 3-pointers and scored 11 points, while Hepburn had 10. The Scarlet Knights made only nine baskets in first 20 minutes and did not make a 3-pointer. They also missed four free throws, with two at the front end of a one-and-one opportunity.

BIG PICTURE

Wisconsin: Will likely get a very high seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Rutgers: Needs a win or two next week to assure itself a second straight NCAA trip.

“This group has overcome adversity,” Harper said. “You know, they told us our season was dead so many times now. We just keep fighting and just keep to keep pushing and keep fighting through adversity. And there’s no doubt that this team can get it done.”

UP NEXT

Wisconsin: Hosts No. 4 Purdue on Tuesday.

Rutgers: At Indiana on Wednesday.

Clark nets 32, No. 21 Iowa women hold off Rutgers 87-78

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PISCATAWAY, N.J. – Caitlin Clark scored 16 of her 32 points in the fourth quarter and No. 21 Iowa held off Rutgers 87-78 on Thursday night.

The Hawkeyes had a 15-point lead late in the second quarter, were up 39-27 at the half and took a 62-54 lead into the fourth quarter but couldn’t put away the Scarlet Knights

Monika Czinano scored Iowa’s first four points in the final period but a jumper by Shug Dickson pulled Rutgers within 66-63. Clark scored the next 12 Iowa points but Dickson’s second-straight jumper with a minute left made it 81-78.

Clark found McKenna Warnock inside to make it 83-78 with 37.4 seconds to play. Rutgers then missed three shots on its next possession, including a block by Warnock. Clark made two free throws with 10.4 to go, stole the ball and made two more from the line.

Czinano finished with 23 points on 10-of-11 shooting and Warnock hit five 3-pointers and scored 19 points for the Hawkeyes (19-7, 13-4 Big Ten Conference), who wrapped up a double bye as a top-four seed for the league tournament next week. They face No. 6 Michigan to close the regular season on Sunday for a chance to earn the league title for the first time since 2008.

Clark finished with nine rebounds and nine assists in her 9th game scoring 30 points this season..

Dickson had 19 points for Rutgers (9-19, 2-14), Lasha Petree and Jailyn Mason both had 13 points and Osh Brown had 12 with nine rebounds.

Iowa shot 60%, made nine 3-pointers and 14 of 17 from the foul line. But the Hawkeyes were outrebounded 35-28 and had 17 turnovers, eight by Clark.

Rutgers shot 45%, matching Iowa’s 32 field goals but had 18 more shots because of 17 offensive rebounds.

Despite 2 straight losses, Rutgers ready for NCAA run

Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports
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PISCATAWAY, N.J.- After 31 years of coaching, Steve Pikiell is looking forward to the time when he can roll a basketball onto the court, sit back and watch Rutgers win game after game.

As soon as the words came out his mouth Thursday, the 54-year-old Scarlet Knights coach started laughing. It was almost as if he remembered his team plays in the Big Ten Conference.

The league is stacked with some of the best teams in Division I. Five Big Ten teams are currently ranked in the AP Top 25, and Michigan State and Rutgers (16-11, 10-7) nearly got enough votes to be part of the poll this past week. Nobody wins them all.

Rutgers is at the end of a three-week buzz-saw schedule that has featured six of seven games against ranked teams.

What’s remarkable is the Scarlet Knights have used the run to thrust themselves into the NCAA Tournament picture. They won four straight over ranked opponents before losing at now-No. 4 Purdue on Sunday and at Michigan on Wednesday. Up next is No. 13 Wisconsin Saturday at home.

“I don’t know in the history of college basketball if anyone has played six ranked teams in seven games,” Pikiell said Thursday. “I mean, these teams aren’t just ranked. They’re in the top 15. It’s not just the Top 25. It’s the top 15.”

Though the recent run has been eye-opening, many expected good things from the Scarlet Knights after they went 16-11 last season and made the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1991. Tenth-seeded Rutgers knocked off No. 7 seed Clemson in the first round and had a nine-point lead over No. 2 seed Houston before falling 63-60 in the second round. The Cougars ended up reaching the Final Four.

Guard Geo Baker and forward Ron Harper Jr. returned this season, but the Scarlet Knights still struggled early. Playing without Baker for six games, they lost to DePaul, Lafayette and UMass and were pushed by others.

“Early in the year, we lost one-possession games,” Pikiell said. “That’s what we were going through. We thought we were pretty good but we had to prove it again this year. They thought last year was just going to happen again and we didn’t play as well as you need to.”

The turnaround started this month, following an overtime loss on the road to Northwestern. It was Rutgers’ third loss in four games, with the only win a two-point decision over last-place Nebraska.

The Scatlet Knights weren’t even on the NCAA bubble at that point.

What followed was four straight wins at home over No. 13 Michigan State, No. 16 Ohio State, No. 14 Wisconsin and No. 12 Illinois, a team that had beaten the Scarlet Knights by 35 points earlier in the season.

Those rankings have changed, but it made Rutgers the first Division I team with wins in four consecutive games coming over ranked foes since Michigan State in 2019-20. It also gave the Scatlet Knights a 5-2 record against ranked opponents this season, including a win over then-No. 1 Purdue after the Boilermakers reached the top spot for the first time.

The run has taken a toll. Rutgers was beaten by No. 5 Purdue Sunday and lost 71-62 to Michigan on Wednesday with the Scarlet Knights out of gas and the Wolverines playing with added incentive after coach Juwan Howard’s suspension.

“I said some teams get better and some teams get worse,” Pikiell said. “I’m thankful that these guys decided to get better. We can play anybody. Yeah, but in our league too, we can lose to anybody when you’re not right.”

Besides Harper (15.7 points) and Baker (11.9), Rutgers is deep. Paul Mulcahy has averaged 17 points recently and athletic big man Cliff Omoruyi has gotten a lot better, averaging 11.8 points and 7.8 rebounds. Caleb McConnell is the best defensive player in the league, averaging a conference-high 2.3 steals.

For now, Pikiell is focused on facing Wisconsin again on a short turnaround. His team got back from Michigan at 1 a.m. Thursday and three of his players had 8 a.m. classes.

“I’ve had to fight from day one,” Pikiell said. “That’s all I know, and you’re going to have some great wins. You can have some tough losses. You have to keep moving, keep getting better and keep believing in your guys.”

Ivey, No. 5 Purdue end Rutgers’ run over ranked teams

Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports
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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind.- For Purdue coach Matt Painter, Jaden Ivey’s ability to break down the defense was the difference.

Ivey scored 25 points, Zach Edey added 15 points and No. 5 Purdue beat Rutgers 84-72 on Sunday, ending the Scarlet Knights’ recent run of success against ranked teams.

Rutgers had won its last four games, all against teams in the Top 25. The Scarlet Knights also beatePurdue in December.

The Boilermakers stopped the string as Ivey did much of his scoring at the line, hitting 15 of 18 free throws. Trevion Williams and Sasha Stefanovic each scored 11 points and Mason Gillis 10 points for Purdue (24-4, 13-4 Big Ten).

Zach Edey and Trevion Williams were a combined 10-of-14 from the field with Edey making 5 of 6 shots.

“I think teams know if they play us 1-on-1, there is high chance we’re going to score,” Williams said. “It’s all about making the other team make a decision. You are either going to play us 1-on-1 or you are going to sink in and we’ll dish it out to our shooters. It’s been working for us to go inside out.”

Paul Mulcahy scored 15, Clifford Omoruyi added 14, Ron Harper Jr. had 12 points and Geo Baker 11 points for Rutgers (16-10, 10-6).

“We were trying to push the lead,” Ivey said. “We didn’t want it to get close at all. We just played great team basketball today. We made plays down the stretch. They were pressing us the whole game. I felt were patient and we took what they gave us.”

Painter said balance was key.

“We had the balance of driving the basketball and make enough 3s,” Painter said. “We had some open ones you like to see go down. We just kept trying to execute, We outrebounded them and had fewer turnovers than them at their place and still lost. Tonight we had outrebounded them and fewer turnovers and won. If you do that you have a chance and it helps when you can make some shots. We made enough tonight.’

The Boilermakers closed the first half with a 9-1 run to take a 45-36 lead, then opened the second half by scoring the first 11 points. Purdue held Rutgers scoreless for nearly five minutes in pushing the lead to 56-36.

For the game, Purdue shot 53% while Rutgers shot 51%. The big difference was Purdue had a 19-4 edge in points off turnovers. Rutgers had 11 turnovers, four more than Purdue. The Boilermakers also made 24 of 29 free throws to Rutgers’ 13 of 17.

BIG PICTURE

Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights saw their string of four consecutive victories over ranked opponents end – they beat Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Illinois during that streak. Despite some disappointing non-conference losses, Rutgers has put itself back on the NCAA Tournament bubble. Rutgers had upset then-No. 1 Purdue 70-68 on Dec. 9 as Harper sank a deep 3-pointer at the buzzer.

Purdue: The Boilermakers moved a half-game ahead of Wisconsin (12-4) and Illinois (12-4) in the Big Ten standings. The Boilermakers close with road games at Michigan State and Wisconsin and home against Indiana.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

With No. 2 Auburn losing to unranked Florida and No. 4 Kentucky losing to No. 16 Tennessee, No. 5 Purdue could move up in the rankings with two victories on the week.

UP NEXT

Rutgers: At Michigan on Wednesday.

Purdue: At Michigan State on Saturday.

Rutgers downs No. 12 Illinois, 4th straight vs ranked team

Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports
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PISCATAWAY, N.J.- Rutgers isn’t just beating ranked teams, they are dominating them with a relentless hard-nosed style of play.

No. 12 Illinois became the fourth straight ranked team to fall to the Scarlet Knights, getting beat 70-59 on Wednesday night. Rutgers’ run is almost sure to get Steve Pikiell’s team a ranking for the first time this season and a berth in the NCAA Tournament for a second straight season.

Pikiell wasn’t ready claim anything after the game, saying he will wait under March 13 for the official NCAA Tournament announcement.

“I think we can play anybody,” Pikiell said. “We can play anybody, any place and win games in any tournament.”

Cliff Omoruyi had 15 points, 13 rebounds and a reverse alley-oop dunk in a game-breaking second run for Rutgers.

“All the credit in the world to them,” Illinois coach Brad Underwood said. “That was that was something my team hasn’t seen in a long, long time … They deserve all the credit. We had no life, no spirit and no fight.”

The winning streak against ranked teams is the longest in school history for the Scarlet Knights (16-9, 10-5 Big Ten). There’s a chance to continue the streak with games next week at No. 5 Purdue and home against No. 15 Wisconsin. The last team to win four straight against ranked teams in the regular season was Michigan State in 2019-20.

Ron Harper Jr. added 16 points and eight rebounds and had the assist on Omoruyi’s second-half dunk. It was the second basket in a 12-0 run that ballooned the Scarlet Knights’ lead to 47-28. Paul Mulcahy added 13 points and Caleb McConnell had 11.

“We’re just trying to continue to get better,” McConnell said. “There’s no ceiling.”

Center Kofi Cockburn was the only consistent threat for Illinois (18-7, 11-4), finishing with 20 points and 10 rebounds. Trent Frazier added 11 points and RJ Melendez had 10.

“My key going into the game was Rutgers has played harder than every single opponent they played in this winning streak,” Underwood said after seeing his team outworked. “It’s not rocket science, it’s not great execution.”

The Illini shot 38% from the field, including 6 of 23 from 3-point range. But they missed their first 13 shot attempts and were never in the game.

Rutgers improved to 13-2 at home, and its biggest lead was 60-37 with about six minutes to play.

Rutgers’ recent run has combined good shooting and defense, and that was evident in the early as the Scarlet Knights opened the game with a 17-7 spurt, featuring six points by Harper. Cockburn had all the Illini points inside.

Illinois couldn’t find its shooting touch in the first 20 minutes, shooting 32% and connecting the last of its 14 3-point attempts.

Rutgers led 33-24 at half, a season-low first-half point total for Illinois.

Harper seemed to jam a hand late, but Pikiell had no information on his injury.

POLL IMPLICATTIONS

The Scarlet Knights received votes in the most recent poll and there is no reason they should not be ranked next week. Illinois had won five of six and will slip a little.

BIG PICTURE

llinois: Big man Cockburn got no support against Rutgers, something that can’t happen consistently if coach Brad Underwood’s team wants to make a postseason run.

Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights had some head-scratching losses early in a season where expectations were high after getting to the NCAA Tournament last season for the first time since 1991. The expectations have returned and there is no question this is a tournament team.

UP NEXT

Illinois: At No. 19 Michigan State on Saturday.

Rutgers: At No. 5 Purdue on Sunday.