Finish For A Season

PISCATAWAY, N.J. - Don't believe in fate? Rutgers does now.

The last time the Scarlet Knights played in a game that was decided by free throws it was in last year's Sweet 16 against then top-ranked Duke. In that game, Duke's Lindsey Harding stood on the charity stripe with .01 seconds remaining, only to miss, sending Rutgers ultimatley into the Final Four.

Fast forward to the first game of the 2007-08 season for No. 3 Rutgers, this time against No. 7 Stanford in the friendly confines of the RAC, and again free throws determined the outcome of the game.

But this time they were made, and not missed, and this time it was Rutgers who must go to bed with that empty feeling of losing their opening game of the year.

Again with .01 seconds on the game clock, All-American Candice Wiggins had the ball for Stanford near her own team's three point line, seemingly resigned to let the game go into overtime, when it happened.

Wiggins hesitated as the clock was about to run out. She took a hesitation dribble and her opponent, Epiphanny Prince, who before this had a great game for Rutgers, swiped at the ball as time ran out.

The whistle blew. Foul on Prince. Wiggins would shoot two with no time on the clock and the score tied at 58. Wiggins, who watched that Duke-Rutgers game on TV, she said afterwards, calmly knocked down both shots to give the Cardinal the lead, the game and a road victory over a Top 3 team.

"It's really unfortunate," said Stanford coach Tara Vanderveer of the way the game ended. "There might be calls throughout the game that you disagree with. That's an unfortunate call but I'm just glad that Candice went to the line and hit the free throws."

Wiggins would say after the game that she didn't feel the foul and Prince swears she didn't hit the Cardinal all-star.

In just the second game of the season for the Stanford Cardinal, both played thousands of miles from their Palo Alto, Calif., home, the No. 7 team in the nation is now 2-0, after stopping one of the deepest teams in the nation in Rutgers, 60-58, in the Knights' house.

In their first game, Stanford scored 100 points against Yale in New Haven. This was not a game where the Cardinal could tally a lot of points. Rutgers, despite playing sloppy and launcing 24 threes, only making five, is one of the best defensive teams in the nation, and it showed.

In fact, if you look at the scorecard and see that Stanford only had five players score, three in double figures, one with six and one with only two, and that their point guard has seven turnovers, you might think this game belonged to the Knights.

But alas, the effort of Stanford's stars, namely guard Candice Wiggins and centers Jayne Appel and Kayla Pedersen - who is just a freshman and had a major coming out party with 15 points and a game-high 16 boards - was enough to defeat the Knights, who only had six players record a bucket themselves.

"In the beginning I thought Kayla [Pedersen] really kept us in the game," said Stanford coach Tara Vanderveer. "I thought Jayne did a great job not getting into foul trouble, scoring for us and rebounding. And Candice is our leader and she just put our team on her back for us and made some big shots and some big free throws."

Leading the way for Rutgers was sophomore guard Epiphanny Prince with 21 points, nine rebounds, three assists and two steals. Prince showed that she will become the go-to scorer for the Knights this season and was among the most active players on the court all night.

Rebounding killed Rutgers, and it was obvious that Stanford's bigs were dominating inside. Rutgers center Kia Vaughn had a dismal game, scoring just four points on 1-of-3 shooting and seven rebounds. The All-American candidate did finish with eight blocks, but was held out for nearly eight minutes of the first half, allowing the Stanford bigs open season.

Between Pedersen and Appel, Stanford scored 33 points and grabbed 29 rebounds. Rutgers only had a total of 32 boards. Candice Wiggins did everything else, including the final two free throws, and finished with 19 points, six boards and three assists, quietly letting the game come to her.

For Rutgers, it's the worst of all ways to lose. And it also says a lot. God can give, and God can take away. Last season for the Knights, he jinxed Harding and sent Rutgers into the Elite Eight, this year, in their opener against the Cardinal, God took away from the Knights.

And now he will test them to see how they respond.

Player Of The Game:
This was a game in which I said that the team who gets production from an unlikely source - someone other than the team's big threes - would be the victor. Well, Rutgers got 21 points from Prince and Stanford didn't get any production from anyone but its best players and still won. So is Prince the player of the game? Perhaps, but I don't give that to a player from the losing team.

No, instead the award will go to two Stanford Cardinal. We'll call them the Trees, as Stanford's 6-foot-4 duo of Jayne Appel and Kayla Pedersen combined for a huge night. It was obvious that they were the difference in the. With Kia Vaughn having an off night and being in foul trouble, these two dominated the post. As C. Viv pointed out, backup center Rashidat Junaid was helpless against them without Vaughn in the game.

Play Of The Game:
This is obvious. With .01 seconds left and the score tied and Stanford's Candice Wiggins miles from the basket, sophomore Epiphanny Prince fouled her, allowing the Cardinal to take two foul shots to win the game. With the call in doubt, it is a travesty the game should end on such circumstances. With that said, it was eerie how similar this was to the Rutgers-Duke game last year. It's like walking in the winning run in baseball or a pass interference call on a hail mary in football.

Quote Of The Game:
Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer on whether or not the foul at the end of the game was the right call:

"It is what it is," said Stringer while jingling her keys in an annoyed way. "Huh. It is what it is, let's just leave it at that. It was called so what difference does it matter? It was called with one tenth of a second left, so I thought that was kinda interesting, because that is the same opportunity that the girl from Duke had. So I thought it was kind of prophetic. I looked at it and I almost had a smile. The odds of something like that happening are slim to none, especially on our own home court.

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