2:00 PM ET, February 2, 2008
PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Rutgers backup Rashidat Junaid's playing time was dwindling, and coach Vivian Stringer wondered if her concentration and confidence were slipping, too. That led to a night-before-the-game talk in which coach told player it was time to start performing better.The talk couldn't have been more timely. Or more productive.Junaid came off the bench to quickly score 10 points down the stretch with Pitt star Marcedes Walker out with an ankle injury, and No. 4 Rutgers rallied from eight points down in the second half to beat the Panthers (No. 19 ESPN/USA Today, No. 14 AP) 64-60 on Saturday.The 6-foot-4 Junaid proved a difficult matchup problem with Pitt's best inside player out, scoring four consecutive baskets during a game-altering 15-1 run that allowed Rutgers to turn a 51-46 deficit with less than seven minutes remaining into a 61-52 lead.Junaid's strong game came after Stringer pulled her aside and told her, "Just being OK, that's not enough. You've got to be better.""So it was good to see her do that," Stringer said.Matee Ajavon scored 15 points, Epiphanny Prince added 14 and Junaid had 11 points and 6 rebounds despite playing only half the game -- or one more point than she scored in Rutgers' previous seven games combined. Rutgers (18-3, 8-1 in Big East) bounced back from a 63-54 loss at No. 12 West Virginia on Tuesday."She stepped up to the plate," teammate Essence Carson said of Junaid, a sophomore who had played only five minutes combined in the previous two games. "She's a powerful player inside. We utilized that and she showed everyone what she can she can."Or exactly what Stringer wanted when she inserted her with less than 12 minutes left, giving her some simple instructions: Post up low, use your strength and don't take any finesse shots.Junaid didn't have to as Pitt struggled to close out the game with freshmen Chelsea Cole and Shayla Scott on the floor. The two scored only a basket apiece in a combined 52 minutes."We could tell they were different without her [Walker]," said Junaid, who had scored in double figures only three times previously this season. "They had two young freshmen in there. We have bigger bodies and were stronger."Junaid sealed the comeback by making one of two free throws with 20.4 seconds left after Pitt had gotten back to within three points. Pitt missed three shots during its final possession before the clock ran out."We were fortunate to get out of this game," Stringer said. "To lose this would have been devastating."Shavonte Zellous scored 20, Mallorie Winn had 16 and Xenia Stewart 15 but Pittsburgh (17-4, 7-1) faltered in the final four minutes after leading most of the game and was denied the first win in school history against a Top 10 opponent. Pitt's loss left No. 1 UConn as the Big East's only unbeaten team and ended the Panthers' 11-game winning streak, one shy of matching the school record set last season.Pitt has won only nine of 115 games against ranked teams and is 1-3 this season -- promoting coach Agnus Berenato to get on the public address system seconds after the game ended to promise the 6,385 fans that Pitt would play the full 40 minutes in its next game, not just 36."Physically, they're bigger and stronger than what my post players were and we'll address that. We've got to get some big, strong girls, too -- and they're on the way," said Berenato, who is from New Jersey and tried to recruit Junaid. "But I don't think like that [if Pitt would have won with Walker]. We didn't have her. We didn't think about it. This is what we have."The 6-3 Walker injured her right ankle while landing hard under the Rutgers basket while going for a rebound with 36 seconds left in the first half, just before Pitt took a 30-23 halftime lead. Walker was helped off the court and didn't play again.Walker, averaging 14.6 points and 10.3 rebounds, had five points and six rebounds in 17 minutes before getting hurt. It is uncertain how long she will be sidelined."I think we learned everyone needs to be ready to go into the game at any time, a lot of unexpected things happened," Winn said. "The freshmen had to come in and I don't think they anticipated having to play those kind of minutes and in that environment and under that amount of pressure."Stringer is five victories shy of 800 in her coaching career, but this certainly is a difficult way to get there. As if playing successive road games against two teams ranked in the top 14 wasn't tough enough, the Knights' next two games are against No. 1 Connecticut at home Tuesday and No. 2 Tennessee on the road Feb. 11.Stringer is 25-1 against Pitt while at Rutgers, Iowa and Cheyney. Rutgers has won 13 in a row against Pitt and 22 of 24 and is 6-0 against Berenato-coached Pitt teams, winning by an average margin of 20.2 points until this game.
Team Stat Comparison
|FG Made-Attempted||24-58 (.414)||24-58 (.414)|
|3P Made-Attempted||3-7 (.429)||6-17 (.353)|
|FT Made-Attempted||13-18 (.722)||6-9 (.667)|
|Fouls (Tech/Flagrant)||12 (0/0)||14 (0/0)|