UNCASVILLE, Conn. – Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer is not a big fan of the WNIT, but says she would accept a bid there to keep her young team playing in the postseason.
No. 24 Rutgers (22-9) is squarely on the NCAA tournament bubble after being routed 83-57 by UConn Sunday in the American Athletic Conference tournament.
"It is an uncomfortable situation to be in, because we don't really know" said Stringer. "In years before, we have always known that we were in. We were out last year, which wasn't a shock. This year, we don't know."
The Scarlet Knights knew they were out of this game early. The top-ranked Huskies jumped out to a 13-0 lead less than 3 minutes into the game, and led by 31 at the half.
Conference player of the year Breanna Stewart scored 22 points and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis added 19, hitting five 3-pointers as the Huskies (33-0), extended the school's third longest winning streak to 39 games.
UConn had 24 assists on 33 baskets. Stefanie Dolson had 15 points, Bria Hartley added 12 and nine assists and Moriah Jefferson chipped in with 10 points and seven assists.
"We got out in transition; we moved the ball great; we got everybody involved; it wasn't just one player," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "That entire first 20 minutes was as good of basketball as I could hope for, especially in the postseason."
Sophomore Briyona Canty had 16 points to lead Rutgers. Kahleah Copper and Tyler Scaife, the league's freshman of the year each added 12. The team was held scoreless for close to 3½ minutes to start the game before Scaife made a layup.
"You get into the boxing ring and they look to knock you out in the first 10 minutes," Stringer said.
A 3-point play by Stewart gave the Huskies their first 20-point lead at 25-4, and a few minutes later brought the crowd to its feet with her defense. Up 30-9, she chased down Betnijah Laney and blocked a layup on what appeared to be an easy breakaway after a Rutgers steal and then made a 3-pointer on the other end.
"We're always hustling back, because once someone turns it over and we lose the ball, we want to make up for it," Stewart said.
UConn made better than 58 percent of its shots before intermission and a 3-pointer by Jefferson gave the Huskies 50-19 lead at the break.
Rutgers, which did not attempt a 3-point shot, outscored UConn 38-33 in the second half, going on a 9-3 run to open the period, but it was far too little and much too late.
"We knew their game plan was to take us out in the first couple minutes," said Laney. "It was just a matter of us focusing on that and making sure they didn't. But, it happened."
Rachel Hollivay blocked three shots, giving her 99 for the season, passing Sue Wicks for the program's single-season mark.
Rutgers, which beat SMU 68-49 in the quarterfinals, was playing its final game in the conference. The Scarlet Knights move to the Big Ten next season.
Rutgers, which has no seniors, falls to just 1-5 this season against teams ranked in the Top 25. The lone win came by three points against Georgia in December.
Stringer said it's a team that deserves to keep playing, even if that involves playing in the WNIT.
"Probably what's best for the team is that we take advantage of the experience, the opportunity, one to practice, to play, to compete," she said. But, don't tell anyone else that, because we're planning to go to the NCAA."