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PISCATAWAY, N.J. – Tyler Scaife has played her best against top opponents this season.
The freshman guard scored a season-high 25 points in Rutgers' 80-71 loss to No. 5 Louisville on Tuesday night.
"She always seems to play well in the big games," Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer said. "She's definitely never afraid."
Scaife, who had 22 against top-ranked UConn, did all she could to help the Scarlet Knights to their first win over a top-five team since they beat No. 1 UConn on Feb. 5, 2008. They have dropped their last 20 games against top-five schools.
Scaife was 10 for 16 from the field and 5 for 5 from the line.
"If they want to make a highlight tape for her they can just use the game against us," Louisville coach Jeff Walz said. "She's a ballplayer. She's special. We left her open on a few ball screens in the first half. She got a couple easy looks and knocked them down and got some confidence. She then made some tough ones. She's someone we knew could score."
Scaife received little help, with no other Rutgers player reaching double figures.
"We needed to find someone to help her," Stringer said. "She couldn't do it all by herself."
Rutgers (15-5, 6-3 American Athletic Conference) built a 48-42 lead early in the second half before Shoni Schimmel and Sara Hammond took over for Louisville (21-1, 9-0), which has won 14 straight games.
Schimmel's 3-pointer started a 22-9 run over the next 8 minutes. Hammond followed with eight straight points, hitting a 3-pointer from the wing and then a three-point play. Bria Smith's three-point play with 9:21 left in the game gave the Cardinals their first lead of the second half.
There was never any panic.
"We definitely have matured as a team going through our run (to the national championship game) last year," said Schimmel, who led the Cardinals with 24 points. "We learned a lot from it. For us, take it a basket at a time instead of trying to hit a home run shot."
Schimmel's 3-pointer from the corner made it 64-57. Rutgers closed to 66-63 on Scaife's jumper with 4:53 left, but could get no closer.
"We're ranked fifth in the country and everyone is trying to beat us," Schimmel said. "Rutgers has to beat us once and we take that to heart."
Schimmel had been on a roll from long range, making 16 of her last 23 3-pointers coming into the night — including a school-record nine in a win over Memphis on Sunday. But she didn't have a great shooting game against the Scarlet Knights, going 4 for 13 from behind the arc.
Still she's hit 20 3s in her last three games, matching Iowa's Melissa Dixon for the most by any player over a three-game span this season, according to STATS.
Louisville jumped to a quick lead behind its senior guard, who scored the team's first eight points. Her first 3-pointer moved her into second place in the school's career scoring list behind Angel McCoughtry. Her 3-pointer with 11:23 left in the first half made it 21-15.
Then Scaife rallied the Scarlet Knights, scoring nine straight to bring Rutgers to 25-24 with 8 minutes left.
Alexis Burke's layup with 2:59 left in the half gave the Scarlet Knights their first lead since the opening basket of the game. They led 38-36 at the half.
Rutgers extended the advantage to 48-42 early in the second half before Louisville rallied.
"We just didn't execute when we needed to in the second half," Stringer said. "We had it right there and let it go."
The teams play again in Kentucky in late February. Both schools will be leaving the conference after this season with the Cardinals headed to the ACC while the Scarlet Knights are off to the Big Ten.
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