If you're a fan of the underdog, like I am, then this isn't looking like your night. Rutgers trails by 8 with 1:42 remaining. If Matee Ajavon hadn't just dropped a three-pointer to cut it to single digits, I might be tearing up on press row already. Now, it's certainly possible that Rutgers closes in on Tennessee in these final minutes, but unless they a) rebound, b) get feisty on defense and c) hit a damn shot, it ain't gonna happen.
Tennessee's opened up Rutgers' veins and is bleeding them dry going over, under and through them to the basket. Epiphanny Prince just slept on Shannon Bobbit, and her New York City comrade drained her second straight three pointer. Then Alexis Hornbuckle ducked under two defenders on the fast break and darined a layup, smooth like butter. Looking at this from the Rutgers' point of view is getting painful. C. Viv deserves better! NOW is the time to overachieve! Do it for the Turnpike operators, who salute you!
We just saw our second instance of where if you argue enough, you can get the ball.
This is where right in front of me on Press Row and a very vocal group of Tennessee cheerleaders and band, Rutgers Matee Ajavon just argued her case and won possession of a ball that came out of bounds.
I just checked and while she's not a pre-law major, her powers of pursuasion should help her cause with Africana studies.
With about three seconds remaining on the shot clock, Rutgers put up a ball that danced on the rim, came out and the Knights got the rebound and were ready for an easy put back when the shot-clock expired and the refs waved the play dead.
Essence Carson immediately grabbed the ref's arm to let her know of her mistake. It was obvious.
The ref pulled away from Carson, conferred with C. Vivian Stringer and Pat Summitt and eventually gave the ball back to Rutgers. But not before costing them two easy points.
And this was an easy call. What exactly were the referees looking at when they thought the ball never hit the rim?
In thinking about who will end up with the rockstar performance of the tournament and the Most Outstanding Performance (MOP) recognition, here are a few famous rockstars from each school's state and their hometown:
Jon Bon Jovi, Sayreville
Lauryn Hill, South Orange
Paul Robeson, Princeton
Frank Sinatra, Hoboken
Bruce Springsteen, Freehold
Sarah Vaughan, Newark
Dionne Warwick, East Orange
Eddy Arnold, Henderson
Chet Atkins, Lutrell
Tennessee Ernie Ford, Bristol
Aretha Franklin, Memphis
Dolly Parton, Sevierville
Tina Turner, Brownsville
Stay tuned to the WAC report, the rockstar of the Final Four is coming up following the game…
Darn Nicky Anosike just did it again -- killed the beginnings of Rutgers momentum by getting fouled on a layup to set up a three-point play. Just when Kia Vaughn was deciding she'd take over and started crashing the boards, Anosike has to get up in the Scarlet Knights' mojo.
Plus, Matee Ajavon just picked up two quick fouls to make it three against her. If Ajavon sits it will be almost impossible for Rutgers to mount the comeback they so desperately need.
Nicky Anosike just gave the Vols their first double-digit lead of the game, further reinforcing the point that unless Rutgers grows some defensive cajones inside, Tennessee's going to beat them at their own game. The Lady Vols have made elegant use of the inside layup, the cut-and-run, and they're tearing Rutgers up down there.
It's 29-18 at half, and Stringer's got some serious coaching to do this halftime...
Rutgers is currently down by six, but in thinking about how if Rutgers can come back and win tonight, they will be considered a Cinderella team for making it further than three out of the four No. 1 seeds, I only have to look at how Jeff, Jess and I spent some quality time together today.
While lounging in Jeff's hotel room after preparing for our blogs, we enjoyed watching 'Ever After' with Jeff's favorite actress Drew Barrymore.
When the scene came on where Prince Charming rescues Cinderella from her imprisonment and slips on the ornately adorned slipper designed by Salvatore Ferragamo, we all three got a little tear in our eyes and sighed.
While Jeff may be Prince Charming for some lucky girl, Jess and I still have hope of finding our own Prince Charming one day (Jess does have the advantage as she goes home to New York to her boyfriend, while I go home to my 7 month old Westie, Biscuit (who is affectionately named after Seabiscuit and will be unconditionally happy to see me after this four day trip even though it's the same look he gives me after I am out running errands for an hour)). Then the hopeless romantic in me reminded myself that even though as a 30-something and having a better chance of being in an airplane crash (knock on wood during my two flights in the morning), there's still some hope of finding my own Prince Charming, though I can't claim that he will be found here in Cleveland before I leave tomorrow. Yet maybe Rutgers will find their glass slipper before the night is over.
Not that She's On Fire advocates fighting in any way, but after watching these teams play for just a few minutes, it isn't hard to notice who their toughest players are.
Matee Ajavon for Rutgers and Alexis Hornbuckle will knock you the hell out.
The intensity on their faces when they play, coupled with the cut of their jaw and the death stare they give to any who stands in their way exudes an attitude that lets opposing players know they mean business.
Matching up on the court is exciting, but I'd love to see them put the gloves on and get in the ring. How about after the Championship game we put together a little charity boxing match.
Candace Parker is starting to take her toll on Rutgers, and they're letting Tennessee out-scrap them under the basket. Now that Kia Vaughn's returning for the floor after a brief Rashidat Junaid interlude, let's see if the Knights can't put together a little bit of a run and close this four-point gap.
Not only the best sign I've seen in the arena so far, but also the Scarlet Knights' best option on offense right now. She's leading the Knights with four points, both of them a couple of sweet pull up J's. I've always liked the name Essence, thought it was silky smooth, especially for someone who's otherwise kind of a hardworking brawler.
Seriously, Scarlet Knights...Part of playing your stunning defense is getting on teh boards -- and so far, Tennessee's got that locked DOWN. Five rebounds to Rutgers' one -- and it's all but eliminated the chance for Rutger's offense to get started. Their one basket is from Ajavon, whose three pointer took a good two minutes for the refs to decide on. Let's get it started, ladies, we're an eighth of the way in and the score's 6-4.
It's the rockin atmosphere of the Quicken Loans Arena that makes me wish that some of my women's college basketball friends, like my friend Pablo 'Choops' Garcia and his colleague Bridget Taylor, could be part of.
From the seat cushions, to those famous flaming guitars and flashing lights of the LED signs around the arena, it's time to get the party started as the starting line-ups are being announced.
They've got an excellent video editing staff working here in Cleveland for the NCAA Final Four -- the pregame video of how Rutgers and Tennessee got here got ME hype. Kia Vaughn screaming, Stringer yelling "YES! YES! YES!" with joy and the Tennessee bench clearing for a postgame celebration. Not to mention more than a few killer blocks, outside shots and other assorted hero moments...One minute to tip-off and I am PUMPED!
While we're giving snaps, props go to Mark and his friends at ASAP Sports who have faithfully transcribed every press conference over the last few days. When you're dealing with C. Vivian Stringer (the C is for Chatty) that's no mean feat. They make our job easy -- or easier. Grazie!
While Duke continues to absorb blows to the stomach by way of Lindsey Harding and the case of the missed free throws and now former coach Gail Goestenkors heading to Texas, here in Cleveland it's business as usual.
Tennessee and Rutgers are taking their practice--hopefully that practice helps the Vols shoot better than on Sunday--and this is a classic championship game matchup.
You have the established program that goes down as the greatest in the game's history versus the upstart team that as of midseason would never have believed they could be here now.
Jeff and I may be 500 miles from home in New York, but the press release that just crossed our desk made me homesick for the bright lights of the big city for the first time this week. Seems that even the Empire State Building has caught the Rutgers fever. They're turning the tower lights red for the Scarlet Knights.
As if that wasn't enough excitement for you, the New Jersey Turnpike is supporting its state university by blazing "Go Rutgers" from its lighted signs along all of its 148 miles. And lest the Scarlet Knight gentlemen feel snubbed, the Rutgers football team earned the same light bright recognition earlier this season when they beat Louisville, 28-25.
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.
Forget She's On Fire -- We're On Fire! We just got to watch the scoreboard being lowered to the court and sit just 20 feet from HUGE bursts of flame as they burned off the remaining pyrotechnic gas. Things really can’t go uphill from here.
We may not be riding off into the sunset, but your faithful CSTV.com blog team is going to hit the streets of Cleveland for what promises to be another memorable night on the town. Last night, moves were made and legends were born, and with more than a few members of the media planning to drink away the memory of their beat team's loss, we intrepid three may have a lot on our hands.
This is Jeff, Jess and Lara saying Goodnight, Cleveland. Stay tuned…
Tennessee women's basketball is the stuff of legend. You can't fight it. But one of the things that is especially appealing about the program is the support between the men's and women's programs. Witness Bruce Pearl's painted orange chest at the Tennessee-Duke game that the Blue Devils ripped out from under them earlier this season.
Here's Bruce Pearl, leaning up against a speaker in Pat Summitt's post-game press conference, smiling with pride for all the world to see.
The comeback is complete, and Candace Parker has one finger in the air. No, she's not saying they're number one. "One more" she mouthed. "One more." One more game for the Vols to play, after their 56-50 win over UNC in national semifinal No. 2.
Unfortunately for Latta, one of my favorite players of the last few years, there are no more games to play. The senior guard has shouted, shot and clowned her way into two Final Fours and I think every minute of it was good for the women's game. Characters like Ivory Latta make people tune in. And until she missed her last three shots here in Cleveland, she gave them quite the sights to see.
Tennessee just tied the game on a put-back layup from Nicky Anosike. Insert modifier that rhymes with Anosike here, because Sticky Anosike is going to the line on an off-the-ball foul from Jessica Breland (Breland's first, in case UNC's foul trouble has you scared).
Call her Bricky Anosike -- missed the first, hit the second.
Rashanda McCants just went down with an apparent leg injury and had to be helped off the court.
Meanwhile, Tennessee has just tied the game on Nicky Anosike's fierce rebound and put back after her own miss. After a UNC offensive foul, Anosike is back on the line shooting two. She missed the first but hit the second and the Vols have a lead.
Without Pringle and McCants things could get hairy for the Tar Heels. McCants was leading the scoring, tied with Latta, with 13 points before her injury.
Just as Tennessee is close to conceeding defeat to UNC in this semifinal game, I must conceed my own defeat to my new friend and fellow blogger here along the five press rows.
John Walters of nbcsports.com gets my vote for MVB (Most Valuable Blogger) for the Final Four. His blog is some of the most poetic and insightful commentary on the game and the atmosphere next to mine.
Granted he did create one of his blogs after being inspired by one of mine, but overall, I would have to conceed to his blogging abilities.
Gosh Almighty, has Carolina figured out how to score or what? They were just up by 10 and Tennessee built a new wing on the Quicken Loans Arena with the bricks they've thrown up. Then suddenly Alexis Hornbuckle, who I consider to be one of the most intimidating players on the floor (She's constantly got a face on her that looks like it's ready for a knife fight) rattles off a couple of coast-to-coast layups. She woulda had a third, but got blocked under the basket. Carolina still leads by 8 and with Ivory Latta flexing her muscles at midcourt (that's entertainment, people!) they don't have reason to worry...yet.
When a coach or player passes away, the surviving players and coaches come together by honoring their fallen friend by wearing a black band on their jersey.
In an equally fitting tribute, the mascots are all wearing the following black arm band to honor Jason Ray, the student who was the UNC Rameses for the past three seasons, who passed away after being struck by a car while on the road with the men's team last week.
Just a little note as we continue grinding through this brick-fest -- one of the most amusing sights a very entertaining Tennessee squad provides is whispered conversations on the court between 6-foot-4 Candace Parker and 5-2 Shannon Bobbitt. Candace has to lean WAY over, and if I had a camera on hand I'd be dying for a shot of them walking down the court side by side, CP3 and her Mini-Me.
Ivory Latta just sank a three pointer and Erlana Larkins followed that with an easy lay in.
Could this be the beginning of some better basketball?
With 17:20 to go and the score 27-26 Tennessee, let's hope so.
In other news, Shannon Bobbitt and Ivory Latta just collided and went down like Rocky and Apollo Creed in Rocky II. The winner is the one who got up first. And that goes to Latta.
In fact, Bobbitt shook her head on the floor for a few seconds, you could actually see the little birdies floating above her head--and was taken out of the game for some much needed rest, and ibuprofen.
* More points will be scored in CSTV.com's Inaugural Final Four H-O-R-S-E game than have been scored by BOTH teams in this first half. This was supposed to be our offensive show of the day? HA!
* Parker will be back on the court to start the second half. She's only got two, and she'll make a swift return to the bench if she picks up a third, but Summitt's screaming her head off and she's got to know that Parker's her difference-maker.
* Latta's halftime speech will be more inspiring than Hatchell's. Not that Hatchell can't get it done on her own, but if Ivory's ever begged her team for anythign in her life, she's going to beg for them to get this done for her. I don't think she'll be back on the court after the half, unless UNC falls quickly to a deeper deficit.
* Both teams had better get their little hineys out here on the court again soon for some shooting practice, or I want my ticket money back!
I can list all the stats and prove why this game has been awful...combined 16-for-61 shooting, 29 turnovers, both team's best players were barely on the court due to foul trouble. Shoot, even the coaches were stomping their feet to this brick fest.
I'm talking open easy lay ups from point blank range missed badly.
The halftime score is 22-21 in favor of Tennessee. Or North Carolina. No it's Tennessee. Oh, it doesn't matter. Let's just say the winning team is going to get more than 22 points.
Unfortunately neither school's band has decided to perform this song by Otis Redding that was immortalized in the movie Animal House. However we've heard just about everything else, including LSU's band playing 'Hold that Tiger.'
After getting knocked down at mid-court, Tennessee's Shannon Bobbitt is singing the blues to the refs on why they should have called a foul. Unfortunately it has fallen on deaf ears as the game goes on.
LaToya Pringle just hit her first basket for the Heels, only their 8th made field goal on the night.
And yet, they are only down 17-16 with 2:53 left in the half.
It looks like we won't get to see CP and Latta again until the second half.
As if cold shooting and foul trouble weren't enough for the Tar Heels and Vols, now they're into turning the ball over. Both teams have coughed it up 13 times. These are the two one seeds? Give me Rutgers anyday.
The way these teams are playing the Scarlet Knights would be handing them a worse loss than they handed LSU.
Look, we've obviously got a marquee matchup here between UNC and Tennessee, but even with their marquee players on the bench, this is very obvious: Ivory Latta and Candace Parker, love 'em or hate 'em, are great for the game of women's basketball.
They're emotional, they're entertaining, they're annoying, they're stellar players. They're everything a nice little lady shouldn't be and everything a great basketball player should be. Great in two senses -- both in their play on the court, the x's and o's and numbers of their performance, but also in the sense of importance, the sense of entertainment that they projecy upon their game. We were snoozing on press row, even with Fowles and Vaughn slamming on the inside -- and now we're riveted, and all Latta and Parker have to do is scream from the sidelines. These two young women are stars, and just as stars defined an era of success for the NBA, so could a pair of stars like these define an era of personality and grown in the women's game.
Camille Little just pulled a move under the basket that I've only been able to manage in a video game, dribbling and spinning low around a defender to give Carolina a three-point lead. Huzzah, Camille. We a lot more scoring and a lot less fouling -- I can't handle another combined score under 100 points -- I'll need more caffeine.
In a misguided effort to one up Candace Parker, Ivory Latta just picked up her third foul on the night.
That news doesn't bode well for either team, as both team's best players are now on the bench. A position their coaches would rather they not play.
With 7:47 to go in the half, the Tar Heels now lead 12-9.
You know you're watching an ugly game when the teams are shooting a combined 8-for-37 AND both team's best players and All-Americans are sitting on the bench instead of leading the way towards some better results.
For all the things an opponent would like to criticize about Candace Parker, you can't say she doesn't have a passion for the game. She's spending more time yelling on her feet off the bench than Summitt. It's clear she knows that a) she's teh backbone of this team, b) they need her on the court, and c) if she can't be on the court, she can make as much noise as she can off it.
Both Tennessee and North Carolina are getting roughed up here in the first half.
Each team has six fouls a piece with UNC's Ivory Latta (who now has three) and Tennessee's Nicky Anosike owning two of their teams respective.
While the game is pretty intense and physical, it may not match up to the take down that may take place behind the scenes between CSTV.com's Jessica Garrison and the security guard who would not let her return to press row for having a "Limited Access" restriction on her credential.
Even though I've only spent 24 hours with Garrison, my money is on her walking away the winner in that match-up.
The Quicken Loans Arena is within walking distance to the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame and with the Final Four logo including a guitar, every one who is part of the Final Four is marching to their own beat right now.
The guitar is such an icon in this tournament that the tournament organizers even found a way to incorporate it into the court.
If you look closely enough at the picture, you will see a white guitar spaning across the court.
The rock n' roll theme of the Final Four brings to mind a top five list of inspirational songs to get stuck in your head for a while:
1. Let's get it started - Black eyed peas
2. Baby got back - Sir Mix A Lot (in honor of a fellow blogger here at the Final Four)
3. Simply the best - Tina Turner
4. Extraordinary - Liz Phair
5. We are the champions - Queen
As LSU fouls its way out of the NCAA tournament and its fourth straight Final Four, here's to a group of young women who pulled together as a team when their head and heart could have arguably been ripped out with the sudden departure of their coach, Pokey Chatman. What they accomplished, five wins and one loss in the P.C. era (that's post-Chatman) is a testament to the maturity and strength of these young women, to what a team of players can accomplish on their own when they come together.
Congratulations ladies, you have my respect and admiration. It's a safe bet that I'm not the only one.
With 1:08 to play in the game and the Knights leading 59-35, C. Vivian Stringer--after jumping up and down like a cheerleader when Brittany Ray nailed yet another three--is pulling her starters and giving the scrubs some PT.
They've earned it for the way they have totally dominated their way to the Championship game.
These Knights deserve all the credit in the world for their domination of LSU tonight.
They have played almost a flawless game. Ajavon and Carson are leading the way scoring. Epiphanny Prince has six assists to go with seven points. Wild Thing Vaughn has come off the bench to score eight points and grab four boards and utterly shut down Sylvia Fowles.
With 3:58 to play and the Knights up by 19, it is becoming safer and safer to place the Knights firmly in the Championship game, awaiting Carolina or Tennessee.
This is a statement game by Rutgers, not to be taken lightly. They are for real and no matter how good the Vols and Heels are, they will struggle to defeat this team.
Admittedly, we've overused the fat lady cliche here at She's On Fire, but I'm so distressed about the way this first national semifinal is going down that I can think of little else. It's like LSU just ran clean out of mojo, the way they're shooting and slipping and (not) rebounding. I can't help but think that if Pokey was here she would have ripped the whole team a new one by now, and have them at least playing with some kind of fire. As is, they seem to be grinding towards the end of their season in uncermonious and heinously low-scoring fashion. I mean, 33 points with four minutes left to play? That's ridiculous even in a game that was billed as the defensive matchip of the night.
I don't think it should end like this. I want more from this LSU team. Sylvia Fowles looks like she's in complete anquish, and I happen to agree with her.
I know I'm supposed to keep to Rutgers news but I have just got to chime in on the play of LSU's Sylvia Fowles.
She looks fine, but her game is sickly. Even with Kia Vaughn out a large portion of the first half in foul trouble, Fowles has been able to do nothing to cut into this Rutgers lead.
The 6-foot-6 All-American is shooting 2-of-6 from the floor with just five boards and four points. More than that, she isn't even in rebounding position when the ball goes up. Vaughn is outrebounding her again and again.
With 12:07 left in this one, Rutgers still leads comfortably 41-27.
If Lippman gets to pick on my girl Big Syl, I've got to comment on the Rutgers players spending more time on the floor than on their feet. This is no laughing matter, obviously, especially when Essence Carson crumpled to the floor and yelled for help in obvious pain, but it appears to be just a cramp. (Plus, Myia McCurdy is a fair trade for Essence in the short-term.) And now Heather Zurich is laying on the baseline...
And yes, I'm just trying to distract myself from the fact that Rutgers still has a comfortable 13-point lead.
So the LSU band and cheerleaders are putting up a brave front, but the fans sitting directly behind us are starting to sulk -- as they well should, trailing by 18 points at halftime. Fowles is in the middle of what looks like a massive choke, and though she was picked as the player to determine this game, she's having little impact and even fewer points -- 1-5 from the field.
Maybe Lippman's right. As long as we keep underestimating Rutgers, they'll keep rising to the occasion. I can't decide whether they look unstoppable or LSU just looks horrible...horribly out of their element, horribly out of rhythm and horribly in a hole. Where's the fight that got you this far, Tigers?
The LSU SID just squeezed past us on press row with an even more squeezed look on his face, and a guy wearing purple face paint behind me just put it best: "Wow. That's all I can say."
While press row is like a can of sardines, fans are sitting pretty in their comfortable seats thanks to the surprise that awaited the fans today.
Not only was this souvenir attached to every seat, but there was also a Final Four t-shirt shrink-wrapped to the cushion. With these two goodies I'm sure that every seat is comfortable despite if you are in the nosebleed section or not.
This is turning into disasterville....Rutgers just sank three straight three-pointers, two from Essence Carson and one from Ajavon, and all LSU's been able to do is turn the ball over (8 and counting) and watch Sylvia Fowles get the ball inside only to dribble it right off her foot into Rutgers' waiting arms.
Thank GOODNESS -- a three-pointer from LSU's Quiana Chaney -- when oh when will this comeback begin?
One minute remains in the first half...
The sparkplug has hit on three consecutive three pointers and it helping Rutgers build an early lead.
With 11:16 left in the first half and the score 18-6, the Tigers have some work to do. And it's all gotta start with Big Syl down low.
Wild Thing just picked up her second foul already, so Fowles should have even more room to dominate the paint. Early on Fowles has missed three of four shots from close range, but they were contested by Wild Thing.
The shorts that Ashley Thomas just faked you out of, that is -- The Tigers look hesitant in their shooting (in part because Rutgers is climbing all over them on defense) and Thomas found herself at the top of the key with no one to look to. So she juked right and took it inside, laid it up and gave the Tigers six points. We're crawling forward here.
Now if it wasn't for Matee Ajavon's insaneness, LSU could get back in this game.
Maybe I was dazzled by the bright lights and Mardi Gras beads, but I blinked and it's 12-2 Rutgers. The shooting here is ice cold and even Fowles' inside hook isn't falling. This is starting to get ugly and we're only eight minutes in...
Wait, Erica White just sank one -- 12-4! The Tigers are coming! The Tigers are coming!
The Final Four is sold out and even though not every seat is filled right now, just about every team in the Final Four is well represented for this first game of the night.
Behind me sporting the purple, gold and mardi gras jewelry and decorative head wear are the LSU fans as Jeff Lipmann posted below.
Diagonally across from the LSU fans are the Rutgers fans proudly creating a sea of red in three sections of the lower level and an entire section of seats in the second level of seats.
Meanwhile the Tennessee fans are getting their money's worth from their tickets by being in attendance for the first game. The Tennessee fans in their glowing orange outnumber the LSU and Rutgers fans combined.
Lastly there is not much baby blue and white to be seen as UNC fans have yet to make their presence known.
...to Sylvia Fowles, who just put the Tigers on the board with a layup inside. LSU has to look to Fowles as much as possible before Kia Vaughn figures out how to shut her down.
So far, the amazing intro sequence and the excitement humming around the arena hasn't translated into much excitement on the court. Play's stopped twice for free throws, and both teams are shooting worse than 30 percent from the field. Brick. Brick. Brick.
On a court graced nightly by NBA royalty in Lebron James, the Scarlet Knights have come out ready for war.
Both teams are shaking off jitters and missing some early open shots, but the Knights did manage to come out with back to back And Ones, by Matee Ajavon and Epiphanny Prince.
After consecutive three pointers by Heather Zurich and Essence Carson, the Knights look to be blossoming into fuedal lords and have taken an early 12-2 run out of the gates.
The Knights are doing it with solid 44 percent shooting and LSU being ice cold from the field. The Tigers are shooting 1-for-9 in the early going.
Speaking of Cleveland, one of my all-time favorite sports movies is Major League, of course, about the rag tag Cleveland Indians. So for the rest of the night Kia Vaughn will be referred to as Kia "Wild Thing" Vaughn.
The game has just started, but before the action gets too hot and heavy, someone is bound to be on fire after the way each player was introduced.
On each corner of the scoreboard, the different colored guitar lowerd to a 45 degree angle. Following each players introduction, flames shot out from the top of each guitar adding some heat and sizzle to the spectacle of the Quicken Loans Arena.
There's always a sense of excitement before a big game tips off, but when you've got flame-throwing guitars, dueling bands, an almost-packed house and you're sandwiched between Boyko and Lippman on press row, it's ON.
Tipoff put the ball in Rutgers' hands, and Matee Ajavon just swished the first points of the game.
On Saturday night at the VIP/Media Party at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the CSTV.com crew got the Final Four party started right.
Now on Semifinal Sunday, we'll be bringing a triumvirate of coverage on everything you need to know, maybe should know and possibly might not even want to know for the 2007 Final Four in Cleveland.
Meet the Crew:
CSTV.com's West of the Mississippi Columnist Lara Boyko:
Lara is in Cleveland by way of La-La Land, Los Angeles. And Boyko knows her way around the celebs and bright lights of Tinsel Town. The three biggest things to come out of L.A. in some time, Bryant, Bush and Boyko. Lara will be handling the duties of our Wandering Atmosphere Correspondence--AKA she'll be doing the WAC job--and will getting down and dirty behind the scenes.
Former CSTV.com Womens Basketball Editor and Columnist Jessica Garrison:
Hands down, Jess Garrison is the greatest and most knowledgeable women's basketball columnist slash grade-school teacher in the world. After failing to secure a second mini-guitar from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last night, Garrison is ready to rock and or roll into action at Quicken Loans. Known for her wacky blue pen-ink mascara jobs, Garrison will be blogging the progress of LSU and North Carolina as they do battle with Rutgers and Tennessee, respectively.
CSTV.com's Women's Basketball Editor Jeff Lippman:
After trips to East Lansing and Dayton for regional action, the exotic locale of Cleveland is giving Lippman mixed emotions. Although the city is far more beautiful than expected, Lippman just can't get over his bias that Jacobs Field is simply a copy of Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore. At Quicken Loans, Lippman will be followling closely the action of Rutgers and Tennessee, making sure to keep a close eye on the heir apparent herself, CP3.
The action starts just two hours from now, with the Tigers and Scarlet Knights hitting the floor usually fit for a King. King James that is.
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.
So here Lippman and I are, live from Cleveland. We're in the basement of the Quicken Loans Arena, watching open practices and pre-game interviews. Everyone's happy to be here, especially Lippman himself, seen here with the LSU Tiger.
They don't look unified sitting up on the podium in their ten different team uniforms, but the State Farm All-American Team seems to have formed a quick bond as they begin their media tour here in Cleveland. UNC's Ivory Latta claims the "coolest" is Ole Miss guard Arminitie Price, even if Price has allegedly "been picking on me ALL the time since we started this morning." Price refuted the charges, saying that Latta had been picking on her, even with her rare height advantage over the pint-sized Tar Heel.
Lindsey Harding, meanwhile, took what many considered a Player of the Year snub with her characteristic grace and composure. Her sights were set squarely on the future, which helped her "to not look back at all, to just keep moving forward to the next thing and the next thing." The two missed free throws that may haunt the end of her college career are becoming a memory as Harding gets ready to participate in the WBCA media activites today and tomorrow and meet with agents to figure things out for Wednesday's WNBA Draft. She's already got her draft outfit picked out, with the help of a friend, although she refuses to divulge her sartorial secrets early.
"This came around real quick," the senior said with a smile. "But I'm ready for all of it."
It's only appropriate that here in Cleveland, the women are being treated like rockstars. Especially Candace Parker, who in addition to facing Carolina in the Final Four tomorrow, was just named this year's Wade Trophy winner. Parker knows how to hold down the mike like few women her age -- she pulled the cordless mike right off the stand and held humble court as she accepted her award, thanking her coaches, opponents, teammates, family and State Farm, this year's sponsor. She also gave a nod to women's basketball players present, future and past (and ribbed Stacey Dales for being on the cusp of the "past"). That kind of easy confidence makes Parker irresistable to reporters and coaches -- she's funny, she's genuine, and she usually has something self-effacing but witty to say.