Rutgers Scarlet Knights

By Jeff Lippman - March 31, 2007

When the Scarlet Knights take the Quicken Loans Arena floor in Cleveland Sunday for the first of two National Semifinal games against LSU, the Knights will be bringing the longest winning streak of any team remaining.

Who would have thought out of LSU, North Carolina and Tennessee, that Rutgers and the Tar Heels would be the two teams that won their conference tournaments.

Since their Feb. 26 embarrassing 70-44 home loss against Connecticut, the Knights have been dominant, including running the Big East Tournament table that included an impressive victory over the Huskies in the championship game.

And into the NCAA Tournament, the Knights just keep on winning.

Prior to January, this Knights team was a struggling bunch. A young group, they had yet to buy into coach C. Vivian Stringer's defensive plans and for that started their season 5-5.

Needless to say, this is not the same Rutgers team. This group aren't young anymore. They are a tested group that has passed every examination with flying colors.

The starting five doesn't have a weak link, with guards Matee Ajavon (16.8 ppg in tournament) and Epiphanny Prince (10.5) taking care of the scoring and ballhandling.

Forward Heather Zurich has contributed seven points per game during the NCAA Tournament, and has the ability to hit the big three when the Knights need one.

The center is a wide-bodied monster inside in sophomore Kia Vaughn. Vaughn is also a very smart player with excellent inside moves.

And the player who keeps it all together on the defensive end is Big East Defensive Player of the Year Essence Carson.

"E," as her teammates call her, has yet to have her best game of the tournament, a factor that doesn't bode well for LSU come Sunday.

And the maestro of this turnaround symphony is their coach Stringer, who never stopped believing in her talented group, and knew that with a little push and some tough love, she had a winner on her hands.

"I think the players here and the team you will see is a testimony to what it means to persevere and continue to believe when all other doubt you," Stringer said. "And that when all 10 members persevere throughout, that dreams can come true."

One dream that hasn't come true for Stringer ever and Rutgers as a University in about six decades is a team National Championship. And two wins away from that magical mark, the players say they have the school and more importantly their coach to play for.

"Each and every year that is every team's goal, that's what every team wants to achieve at the end of the season," Carson pronounced. "But not only would this be special for school history and ourselves, but it would be special for coach Stringer. It would be her first."

Standing in their way of the title game will be a very tall task. And by tall task, of course, I am speaking of 6-foot-6 Sylvia Fowles, who is a double double machine.

LSU has had its troubles, tribulations and turmoil, but through it all have kept on ticking like clockwork and haven't missed a beat.

These two teams are perhaps the best two stories entering the Final Four. The two lowest seeds--Carolina and Tennessee are No. 1's--are also perhaps playing their best basketball of the season right now.

The Knights had to beat Duke and Arizona State to get here, no small task for any team. But the Knights handled all the hurdles they have faced and I see no reason why they shouldn't be able to continue rolling right along.

Fowles is the X-factor, since you never know how dominant she can be. As good as Kia Vaughn is, Fowles is better. The Knights have an advantage at pretty much every other positon, in my opinion, but Fowles has the ability to offset that advantage.

With the SEC being known for its defense and Rutgers being one of the best defensive teams in the country, you can expect an ugly defensive battle.

Don't like the sound of that? Well, C. Vivian Stringer wouldn't have it any other way.

Posted by Jeff Lippman at 03:43 PM on March 31, 2007
Comments (1)


North Carolina won it's conference tournament, so your entire argument is invalidated by your inability to verify your claims.

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