PISCATAWAY, N.J. — C. Vivian Stringer will be happy when she finally reaches 900 victories. Then she can just focus on basketball.
Rutgers played a spirited first half against No. 3 Connecticut before losing to the Huskies 65-45 on Saturday. The loss was the second straight for the Scarlet Knights since Stringer earned her 899th career victory against Cincinnati last Saturday.
"I'll be glad to get it over with," Stringer said. "I can't begin to share with you the stress that it is – not in a negative way. We're trying to fight hard to see how we can live and survive in the Big East to do that. I haven't even talked to the team about the pressure of that. Even when my sister talks to me I don't want to talk about it."
Stringer's next try will be Tuesday at No. 23 Syracuse.
"I appreciate the historical perspective. I do know its special. Unfortunately it's coming at a time when we have so many young people and struggling. I look at this and I do feel encouraged. Nine hundred will come one of these days."
The players are hoping it comes soon.
"We want to achieve that milestone for her," said Shakena Richardson, who led Rutgers with 10 points. "It will come with time. We're trying our best out there. We want that milestone for her."
The Hall of Fame coach was looking to join Pat Summitt, Jody Conradt and Sylvia Hatchell, who reached the mark last week. Only three men's coaches have reached 900 victories – Mike Krzyzewski, Bob Knight and Jim Boeheim.
It wasn't long ago that Rutgers (14-10, 5-6 Big East) was a thorn in the side of Connecticut, going 5-4 against the Huskies from 2005-2008. That's not the case anymore as the Huskies have won the past 10 meetings.
The Scarlet Knights knocked off the Huskies to win the 2007 Big East tournament. A 73-71 victory the next season was Rutgers' last against UConn.
For 10 minutes the Scarlet Knights took it right at the Huskies (24-1, 11-1). Rutgers led 14-4 nearly 5 1/2 minutes in as Huskies coach Geno Auriemma pulled four of his five starters – unhappy with their play when it appeared they were already looking ahead to their upcoming showdown against top-ranked Baylor.
"We had a game plan going in and one of the things that we wanted to make sure of we didn't do," Auriemma said. "I thought that all we did right those first four minutes was foul. I don't think we accomplished anything else, didn't play offense or defense."
The Huskies trailed 18-12 midway through the first half before Moriah Jefferson provided a spark. She had two steals that ended in layups – the second resulting in a three-point play that gave UConn a 22-18 advantage.
Rutgers got within 26-25 before UConn scored seven of the final nine points of the half to lead 33-27.
UConn picked right up where it left off in the second half, scoring the first seven points to take a 40-27 lead and put the game away. Rutgers could get no closer than nine the rest of the way.
Jefferson and Tuck came off the bench to give the Huskies a lift, something Auriemma knows will help them down the road.
"This goes a long way for both Moriah and Morgan going forward knowing they can come in a game like this and contribute what they contributed," Auriemma said. "You can go to the Final Four with six players, probably go with just five if you're lucky. If you can change up the game with a couple people coming off the bench, that's what good teams do. We want to be a good team."
Starting guard Bria Hartley played the first four minutes before getting pulled. She never got back in the game.
"She wasn't healthy at practice, wasn't great at shootaround," Auriemma said. "She gave it a shot and it didn't work out."
Rutgers, which is in danger of seeing its 10-year streak of NCAA tournament appearances end, had put together two strong halves. The Scarlet Knights rallied from an 18-point second half deficit against DePaul on Tuesday before falling 60-57, and stuck with the No. 3 team in the country for 20 minutes.
The Scarlet Knights just couldn't sustain it. Rutgers was missing senior forward Chelsey Lee, who is sidelined indefinitely with a right knee injury. She missed last season with a shoulder injury.
Rutgers, with nine underclassmen on the roster, is having a rare down year, and Stringer's $1 million salary has come under scrutiny. She made comments last week to a group of reporters describing those critical of her as "crazies" and said they need to "just back off"
Athletic director Tim Pernetti talked to a group of reporters at the half and said he called the coach after her remarks and opted to keep the details of the conversation private from the media.
Stringer has one more year on her contract after this season.
Rutgers honored former star Sue Wicks before the game. Wicks, who starred for the Scarlet Knights from 1984-88 before going on to play for the New York Liberty in the WNBA, will be inducted into the women's basketball Hall of Fame in June. Wicks' jersey is retired in the rafters and a banner commemorating her upcoming induction into the Hall of Fame hung next to it.
This was also the Play4Kay game with UConn and Rutgers honoring former North Carolina State coach Kay Yow, who passed away in 2009 after a long battle with cancer. The Scarlet Knights wore pink uniforms while the Huskies wore pink socks and had the color trimmed on their shorts.
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