for this game

Rutgers women stun top-seeded Duke in regional semifinal

Mar 24, 2007 - 11:34 PM GREENSBORO, North Carolina (Ticker) -- You have to wonder how much heartbreak Gail Goestenkors and Duke can take.

Goestenkors could only watch as top-seeded Duke blew a four-point lead in the final minute amid a flurry of mistakes by senior Lindsey Harding in a 53-52 loss to fourth-seeded Rutgers in the NCAA Women's Tournament East Region semifinal.

"It's going to be difficult," Goestenkors said. "Especially for the seniors, you remember the last game for the rest of your lives. But I will do my very best to get them to understand what a tremendous year it was."

Duke won its first 30 games before losing to North Carolina State in the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament. The Blue Devils were upset by Maryland in last year's title game, lost in the regional finals in 2004 and 2005, in the national semifinals in 2002 and 2003 and in the title game in 1999.

Rutgers guard Matee Ajavon scored 16 of her 20 points in the second half, when the Scarlet Knights (25-8) erased a 10-point deficit and dealt the Blue Devils (32-2) just their second loss of the season - both in Greensboro Coliseum.

Ajavon's crossover dribble caused Harding to lose her balance and fall, leaving Ajavon with an open 3-pointer that she drilled to cut the deficit to 52-51.

Duke's Alison Bales rushed a shot on the next possession, and Epiphanny Prince went the length of the court through multiple defenders and made a tough running shot that gave Rutgers the lead with 20 seconds to go.

Harding had the ball stripped from her by Essence Carson. She atoned for her mistake by stealing the ensuing inbounds pass, driving into the lane and drawing a foul with a tenth of a second to play.

"We were up one with basically no time left on the clock and we just had to believe," Carson said. "If we didn't believe, who knows how the game would have ended?"

A 76 percent foul shooter, Harding back-rimmed both shots and dropped to the floor in anguish as the Scarlet Knights celebrated their sixth trip to the regional finals.

"I said to Lindsey that one game does not define the career she's had," Goestenkors said. "She's really had an incredible career for us and specifically a year for us. She's helped us win so many games. I felt so much for her to end on this note."

Prince scored nine points and Heather Zurich added eight for Rutgers, which shot just 40 percent (23-of-57) from the field and attempted only six free throws.

The win avenged an 85-45 home beating at the hands of then-No. 1 Duke in the regular season.

"We're all fighters and we never forgot," Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer said. "The lesson was tough but we learned."

Bales scored 21 points and Carrem Gay added 10 for Duke, which shot 46.5 percent (20-of-43) and was 10-of-14 from the line. Harding had five points, five rebounds, five assists and five turnovers.

Bales had eight points and all four of her blocks in the first half, helping Duke open a 21-16 lead. Abby Waner's only 3-pointer of the game extended the advantage to 28-18 with 18:06 to go before Rutgers began its comeback behind Ajavon.

In Monday's regional final, Rutgers will face Arizona State. The schools were scheduled to play November 25 in the Virgin Islands, but the game was canceled when the brother of ASU player Aubree Johnson suddenly died.