When resolve wins the game

By Lara Boyko - April 02, 2007

The Final Four is crunch time and while there were four teams who knew the importance of playing well during this weekend, only two teams knew that it would take more than playing well to advance to Tuesday’s final game.

Rutgers used their resolve to get their coach to her second championship final in 25 years by creating a lead in the first two minutes of the game and then never looking back.

“This win means a lot for the university and for Coach Stringer,” said Rutgers guard Epiphanny Prince. “This is something she’s been trying to do for a long time now and hopefully we can come out and play hard and get it for her.”

Their resolve to play hard was evident from the moment the Scarlet Knights took the floor. Very quickly their 6-0 lead grew to 12-2, then 23-11 and finally 37-19 to end the first half. The Rutgers team blew LSU away in the first half with shooting 43 percent from the field and 80 percent from three point land.

“We were hitting shots,” said Rutgers forward Heather Zurich, who finished with seven points. “I think we were like 80 percent in the first half from three-point range.”

Rutgers didn’t match or better their shooting in the second half, but with a score that was already so lopsided after the first half and LSU not getting the performances they needed from their star players, there was no way that Rutgers could not lose tonight.

The Scarlet Knights finished with a 59-35 win on the performances of Matee Ajavon with 16 points and Essence Carson with 15 points. Not helping the LSU effort was the non-performance of Sylvia Fowles who shot a poor 2-10 from the field. Through their performances and resolve, Rutgers is proudly living to see one more game in this year’s NCAA Tournament.

“I am so proud of these young ladies,” said Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer. “We talked at the beginning about only believing what we know. And I think that through the course of this year we were a team that had faith but we also believed because of what we saw.”

The second game of the night was just a little different. Instead of seeing one team dominate, the sea of Ruters-red, UNC-blue and Tennessee-orange fans witnessed a great defensive battle that was not decided until the final two minutes of the game.

“Well, obviously to win at this level I think you have to have great defensive pressure and influence,” said Tennessee coach Pat Summit. “And I thought our defense was the key. The fact that we played them tough on the boards, I think we out rebounded them by one. Going into the game and we just kept talking about the importance of stopping their transition, making team spend more time in the court-to-court offense and just rebounding, rebounding and rebounding.”

Not only was having the drive to play a better defensive game against UNC tonight that helped Tennessee pull out with a 56-50 win, but a 20-2 run in the final eight minutes of the game enabled the Lady Volunteers to not go home after one game.

“To be honest with you, we just did not want to go home,” said Tennessee’s Candace Parker on her team’s turnaround with 8:18 left in the game. “I mean, we were looking back at each other and just saying all the stuff that we have been through to get to this point and not seize the moment would just be a total waste. We just really wanted it.”

Tennessee may have won with their heart and conviction, but it was definitely not on their shooting. The Lady Volunteers shot a dismal 27 percent for the game, which is the lowest shooting percentage every from a team in an NCAA semifinal game. Big performances from Tennessee came from Parker and Nicky Anosike who finished with 14 points a piece.

UNC did just about everything they should have done to win the game, from shooting 35 percent from the field, 31 percent from three point land to 75 percent, yet with Camille Little and LaToya Pringle fouling out during Tennessee’s run, the Tar Heels ran out of gas and are heading home in the morning.

Posted by Lara Boyko at 01:15 AM on April 02, 2007

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