SPOKANE, Wash. (March 4, 2012) – No. 24/20 Rutgers women’s basketball’s junior guard Erica Wheeler (Miami, Fla.) recorded a career-high 28 points in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at McCarthey Athletic Center, however the Scarlet Knights were unable to overcome a shaky first half, falling 86-73 to the 11th seed Gonzaga.
Wheeler connected on six-of-14 from three-point range on the afternoon and added four assists and two steals. Senior guard Khadijah Rushdan (Wilmington, Del.) tallied her seventh career double-double with 16 points and 11 rebounds, while junior forward Monique Oliver (Las Vegas, Nev.) added 12 points and six rebounds.
The Scarlet Knights exit the tournament in the first round for the second time in three seasons. Rutgers ends its 2011-12 campaign with a 22-10 overall mark.
Gonzaga took control of the glass early, scoring the opening two buckets on second chance opportunities from its post players. Rutgers struggled to settle in, missing its first seven shots of the contest. Rushdan broke the drought with a pair of free throws to put the Scarlet Knights on the board and RU followed with its first field goal of the game at the 13:52 mark, a layup from Oliver, to bring RU within two, 6-4.
An offensive rebound and put back from freshman forward Christa Evans (Jackson, N.J.) halted a 14-0 Bulldog run and ended a 4:20 scoring drought for the Scarlet Knights. The basket sparked RU to eight-straight points to bring Rutgers within eight at 20-12 with 8:37 remaining.
RU, who shot 29.0 percent (9-31) in the opening period, continued to struggle on the offensive end, allowing Gonzaga to extend its lead to 38-23 at the half, despite a last second bucket from Wheeler.
Rutgers came out of the locker room a different team and immediately began chipping away at the deficit, coming within 11 at 57-46 following a 9-2 run, but the Bulldogs’ Haiden Palmer drained a three – one of nine on the afternoon for the Zags – to push the deficit back to 14.
The Scarlet Knights battled back within 10 (69-59) with 3:35 left in regulation, following a pair of free throws from Oliver. Gonzaga maintained its composure, despite Wheeler’s efforts from behind the arc, by going 14-16 from the charity stripe over the final 2:47 minutes to hang on for the victory.
Gonzaga had four players reach double-digit points, led by Standish’s 23 and Palmer’s 21. Taelor Karr chipped in 14 points and Kelly Bowen recorded the team’s only double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds.
- RU moves to 35-23 all-time in NCAA Tournament games and 14-5 in first round games. Under Coach C. Vivian Stringer the Scarlet Knights are 27-14 in the tournament. Rutgers has dropped its opening round game in two of the last three seasons
- The Scarlet Knights conclude the season at 22-10, 10-6 BIG EAST (12-3 home, 6-7 away, 4-0 neutral)
- Rutgers’ 15-point halftime deficit was the largest it had faced in an NCAA Tournament game in over 10 years. The last time the Scarlet Knights trailed by double-digits at the half was in the 2007 National Final game against No. 1 Tennessee (29-18)
- Erica Wheeler recorded a career-high 28 points. Her six three-pointers and 13 three-point attempts were career-highs. Wheeler has three 20-point scoring games in her career.
- Khadijah Rushdan recorded her seventh career double-double – her second in NCAA Tournament action – with 16 points and 11 rebounds. She hits double-figure points for the 22nd time this season and the 65th time in her career
- RU graduates four seniors in Khadijah Rushdan, Nikki Speed, April Sykes and Jaymee Tucker. Rushdan concludes her career in 17th (1,288) place all-time at RU in points, seventh (464) in assists and tied for first in games played (135). Sykes, who also reached 1,000 points in her career, finishes in sixth in three-point field goals made and fourth in attempts