The Rutgers players know the challenge they face in Monday’s second-round NCAA Tournament game against top-ranked UConn, a team they played at least twice a year when both were members of the Big East and last year in the American Athletic Conference.
Game: 3/23/15 at 9 p.m. on ESPN3
But the Scarlet Knights say while they respect the Huskies (33-1), who have been beating opponents by an average of 42.5 points a game, that familiarity helps remove the intimidation factor UConn normally enjoys over its opponents.
“Geno (Auriemma) has said this a thousand times and I know this, any team that comes in and is in awe is down by 20 points right from the beginning,” said coach C. Vivian Stringer. “He knows that we don’t come in awe. We might be down at some particular point, but it’s not because we are in awe of UConn.”
The Huskies have also won the last 13 meetings with Rutgers (22-9), by an average of 23 points. Stringer said her team likely will play a lot of man-to-man defense and “pick our poison” against UConn, which has five players who average in double figures in scoring and are each likely to end the season with 100 assists.
The Knights lost last season’s matchups with the Huskies 72-35 and 83-57, but senior forward Betnijah Laney says this is not the same Scarlet Knights team.
“We’re definitely more of an offense threat,” she said. “We’ve all done a great job of expanding our games and adding to what we do. So I think we’ll definitely be a better matchup than we have been in the past.”
UConn’s Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis said the Huskies have heard that before.
“I think our main thing is to kind of kill that confidence in the first four minutes, by the first TV timeout,” she said.
UConn is 22-2 in second-round NCAA Tournament games.
Here are some other things to watch for as UConn faces Rutgers on Monday.
INJURY ISSUES: Stringer says the Scarlet Knights will again be without Big Ten defensive player of the year Syessence Davis. The guard injured her left knee during the conference tournament. Rutgers will have forward Kahleah Copper, who said she’s feeling no ill effects of leg cramps that forced her to be carried off the floor after Saturday night’s win.
APPROACHING HISTORY: Mosqueda-Lewis needs just 11 more 3-pointers to tie the NCAA division I record of 392. She had just two points in the Huskies first-round game and was 0 for 3 from behind the arc.
FINAL HOME GAME: UConn’s two seniors, Mosqueda-Lewis and Kiah Stokes will be playing their last home game at Gampel Pavilion. Both say that since they’ve already had a senior night, they don’t expect to get emotional about it. But Mosqueda-Lewis, who had her name placed on the arena’s Huskies of Honor wall that night, said playing beneath that plaque is a bit surreal.
ATTENDANCE: Saturday night’s first round drew less than 3,700 fans to Gampel Pavilion. UConn coach Geno Auriemma called that embarrassing and while not blaming any one thing in particular, said it makes no sense to him that the Huskies were scheduled for a 9 p.m. start on the East Coast, while some West Coast teams were playing earlier in the day. The Huskies game against Rutgers is again scheduled for 9 p.m. on Monday night. Auriemma said it would have made a lot more sense to have the Huskies play on Friday night and Sunday afternoon, or earlier Saturday and Monday. “You look for windows, when you know who our fan base is, that we could get 8, 9 or 10,000 (fans),” he said.
NEW BUILDING: UConn has been showing off its new $40 million state-of-the art practice facility to visiting coaches. Stringer said it’s something that a program with UConn’s history of championships deserves. Auriemma said it’s nice to have, but has very little to do with UConn’s success. “I said this to somebody when we were building it and after we opened it I said, ‘You know, if we had had this the last 20 years, we could have been really good.”