ATHENS, Ga. – With 885 wins under her belt, Rutgers basketball coach Vivian Stringer knows how to take a long-range view of the future, even after losing the season opener Sunday to No. 10 Georgia, 57-51.
"People ask why I'd play the No. 10 team in the country today," said Stringer. "It doesn't matter to me. My view is what is going on in the long run. We are a young team, and that's not to make excuses, but we need to get more of an attitude in terms of how do we get better. I know we'll go back tomorrow and work harder."
With the retirement of Tennessee's Pat Summitt, Stringer is now the nation's winningest active coach.
Stringer watched the Scarlet Knights (0-1) turn the ball over 26 times, leading to 18 points by Georgia (1-0), yet she was still optimistic about the future.
"I've enjoyed coaching this group," she said. "They're a good group of young ladies. They're fun, and they take it personally, so I am sure they're going to work hard to get better after this."
Ruttgers led 12-8 in the first half before Georgia went on an 18-2 run that proved to be the difference in the game. Twice Rutgers closed to within two points in the second half, but the Scarlet Knights could never tie the score.
Erica Wheeler scored 12 points, and Chelsey Lee 11 for Rutgers.
Khaalidah Miller led Georgia with 12 points, and three teammates scored 10 apiece: Jasmine James, Anne Marie Armstrong and Jasmine Hassell
Rutgers led 12-8 after Lee's short basket with 12:57 to go in the first half before Georgia mounted its 18-2 surge, capped by Tiaria Griffin's steal and layup with 4:17 to go before the half, building a 26-14 lead.
Landers said that the key to the Georgia rally was the defensive help by the guards on Rutgers' centers.
"Rutgers struggled to score in the half court after that," he said.
Stringer expressed optimism after the game.
"I saw a lot of fight, energy, tenacity, enthusiasm and never giving up," she said. "I was impressed with Christa Evans. Look at her first year and look at her now. She's developed such confidence. And Briyona Canty never played the point before and came in and did well. Those were question marks that I had."
Georgia led 28-18 at intermission, scoring 13 points off 16 Rutgers turnovers. Georgia failed to score a field goal in the first seven minutes of the second half and Rutgers pulled to within 29-27 with 13:09 to play on a putback by Syessence Davis, prompting a timeout from Landers. He drew up a play that got a layup for Hassell, the first basket of the half, giving Georgia a 31-27 lead with 12:47 to go.
Georgia's Erika Ford, playing with four fouls, pushed the Lady Dogs to a 40-34 lead with 7:20 to go, hitting a free throw, a putback and a coast-to-coast layup in a 77-second span.
Twice in the last six minutes, Hassell scored from underneath the basket to stretch Georgia's lead to seven points. When James bolted for a full-court pass and layup, she put Georgia ahead 53-43 with 2:05 left and put the Knights into hurry-up mode.
Stringer had kind words for Landers.
"He's nothing less than an outstanding coach," she said. "It's funny, instead of shaking hands, we just hug each other. We've had meals together; we are great friends. People don't understand that, but you can't be in this for the long haul and not have your colleagues as your friends. I have nothing but respect for him."
Georgia showed off four freshmen who provided key minutes for a Lady Dogs team that has played with rotations of six of seven players the last two seasons.
"Thirty-three minutes is pretty much a vacation for me, considering the past two or three years of playing 40 minutes a game," James said with a laugh. "It did help me to have some extra energy down the stretch instead of dragging."
Landers agreed that the extra depth for the Lady Dogs gives the whole team the freedom to play with maximum energy at all times.
"We had four freshmen get in and get significant minutes," Landers noted. "They all did some good things, and they all did some things that they would like to do over. The good thing is that they were on the bench the last six minutes processing. It is one thing for the coach to say there are no easy plays. It is another for them to turn it over at half court and watch them lay it up on the other end. That happened twice today."