Why has the Rutgers women's basketball team fallen so far behind UConn?
2/16/2013 7:49:00 PM
Forget about Vivian Stringer's search for her 900th win. That will inevitably come. Forget about that 14-4 run Saturday afternoon to open the game at the RAC against number-three Connecticut. To be honest, the Scarlet Knights could have played the Huskies until next Friday without winning...and, truthfully, this isn't one of Geno Auriemma's better teams in recent memory. The real story here...and the telling question here...is why has the Rutgers women's basketball team fallen hopelessly behind UConn...and the rest of the nation. For historical perspective, let's go back to the 2007 and 2008 seasons...the last times Rutgers beat Connecticut...and the Scarlet Knights did it in back-to-back years....'07 in the Big East Tournament championship game in Hartford and '08 at the RAC to spoil the Huskies' undefeated season. Since then...with the same two head coaches...with the same set of arenas...in the same league...Rutgers has fallen woefully behind UConn in wins, in recruiting and, to be honest, in coaching. In the last ten meetings between the two teams---all Connecticut wins---the Huskies have outscored the Scarlet Knights by an average margin of 20 points. That is anything but competitive basketball. And, why? It has to begin and end with the coaching. Auriemma continues to go to Final Fours, continues to put together elite recruiting classes and continues to show a tremendous passion for the game both on the collegiate level and internationally, evident the fact of leading the USA to another Olympic gold medal this past summer in London. Stringer, on the other hand, while basking in the glow of her Hall of Fame induction, is 1-29 in her last 30 games against Top-Ten teams, has not been a legitimate threat in the NCAA Tournament in the last five years (including this one) and has not recruited the likes of Cappie Pondexter, Kia Vaughn, Essence Carson, Matee Ajavon and Epiphany Prince for quite a while now. Maybe part of that is that her key recruiters in years gone by like Jolette Law and Charlene Mitchell have left the program and no one has picked up that slack. Or it could be that Stringer has lost her coaching mojo and may never be able to get Rutgers back into the nation's elite. Certainly the tremendous drop in attendance at the RAC might point to the latter. Yes, there always will be the diehards in any program, win or lose. But, there are also those that only come to the games when the going is good and those thousands who now are staying at home or in their dorms evidently have decided that the product is not good enough for them to spend their time or money. To be honest, only Vivian Stringer can get this turned around, if she is able. She needs to get a top-notch recruiting coordinator (to go along with her national recruiting budget that her male counterpart Mike Rice doesn't have)...she needs to start getting the most out of her players, not only defensively but also offensively...and she needs to get out into the community and re-sell her program...to show the same passion that she did eighteen years ago when, at her introductory news conference, Stringer promised that Rutgers would become "The Jewel of the East." For now, that jewel has become a lackluster gem.