By Matt Sugam
PISCATAWAY – As Rutgers had their first bye week of conference play, using some time to recover from the bumps and bruises of the Big East, they did so on a four-game losing streak. So Mike Rice’s message to his team was simple.
Win the month of February.
And what that means is simple.
“Winning record or as I always say getting better, improving,” Rice said, adding: “We have to start pulling some of these games out.”
Those games they let slip away due to a few minute lapses, causing the game to get away form them in the waning moments.
“We have to start winning some of these games that we’re losing and understand the reason why we’re doing it,” Rice said. “Understand the reason that when we get in the midst of the game – whether it’s at UConn or at Cincinnati – there’s always a stretch and now who’s going to allow us to be successful in that stretch? Who’s going to make a winning play, who’s going to make a winning decision? That just has to improve.”
And they’ll have to do so against one of the best teams in the Big East with No. 11 Louisville coming to town on Wednesday night. A team that likes to press and cause turnovers. Something that could pose an issue for Rutgers – who’s been prone to turnovers – averaging 14.7 a game.
“Ever since I’ve been here I know their guards have been like dogs – they like to hound. They like to pressure,” Austin Johnson said. “For the whole game their bringing high intensity, they’re motor never stops and we got to be aware and help our guards break the press.”
And once you break the press, there’s Gorgui Deng lurking in the backcourt ready to block a shot.
A tough task for a team that needs to get itself out of the slump that they’re in.
“We’ve had a lapse lately and we know that once you get into a rut it’s hard to get yourself back up,” Johnson said. “We know that we’ve dug ourselves into a hole so we have to do everything we can to get right back on the right track and it starts with a win.”
Which is exactly what this team needs to start final the month of the regular season.
“We talk about winning the month of February,” Rice said. “We need to win the month of February right now and that’s where we’re at.”