Rutgers turns in dominating effort against LSUApr 2, 2007 - 3:28 AM By Tom Torrisi PA SportsTicker College Basketball Editor
CLEVELAND (Ticker) -- With the way Rutgers plays defense, anything the offense can deliver is usually a bonus.
The Scarlet Knights delivered on both ends of the floor in the NCAA Tournament's national semifinal, parlaying an early barrage of 3-pointers and a suffocating defensive effort en route to a 59-35 romp over Louisiana State.
Now comes the bonus for Rutgers - a berth in Tuesday's national championship game against either North Carolina or Tennessee.
It is the second appearance in a title game for Scarlet Knights coach C. Vivian Stringer - 25 years after she took Cheyney State to the inaugural NCAA Tournament in 1982.
"This is everything to coach," sophomore forward Heather Zurich said. "We want to do this for her. To get her a national championship, that would be the ultimate."
Matee Ajavon scored 16 points and Essence Carson 15 for Rutgers, which cruised to a 37-19 halftime lead and were never threatened as it held the Lady Tigers to the fewest points ever scored in a Final Four.
Stringer, the only women's coach to bring three different teams to the NCAAs, has watched her young team, which features five freshmen and no seniors, rattle off eight straight wins following a demoralizing 70-44 home loss to Connecticut in the regular-season finale.
During the streak, Rutgers knocked off UConn for the Big East tournament championship and avenged a 40-point loss to Duke by ousting the Blue Devils, 53-52, in the Greensboro Regional semifinal.
"Wow. That's the best word to describe what's happening right there," Stringer said. "We had an opportunity to play before great crowds against the No. 1 and No. 2 team in the country. And some of the most difficult situations.
"How could this be any more intimidating? So we took this more as an opportunity. No one expected us to be here."
Certainly no one expected the Scarlet Knights (27-8) to win in such dominating fashion, holding LSU's magnificent center Sylvia Fowles to five points - nearly 13 below her average - as the Lady Tigers lost in the national semifinal for the fourth consecutive season.
Rutgers removed the suspense early with a torrid shooting display from the arc in the first half. The Scarlet Knights connected on 8-of-10 3-pointers in the opening 20 minutes, led by Ajavon (4-of-4) and Carson (3-of-4).
"I think it was just there. We didn't plan to shoot threes," said Ajavon, who is playing with a titanium rod in her leg due to surgery for a stress fracture that forced her to miss the first games of the season. "The shots were just there. Which opened up the inside. So they just went in."
Fowles, meanwhile, was just 1-of-5 from the floor in the first half as Rutgers collapsed three defenders on her everytime she touched the ball - which was not often. She finished 2-of-10 with seven rebounds and four turnovers.
The 6-6 junior entered with 27 double-doubles this season alone, but was held to her lowest point total since scoring five against Tulsa on November 24.
"Not taking anything away from Rutgers' defense, but I don't feel they had to do much," Fowles said. "I just think I had a sluggish game from the get-go and couldn't get in rhythm and I couldn't do anything to help my team out from the jump ball."
When Rutgers center Kia Vaughn picked up her second foul and was forced to the bench with 11:16 and her team holding an 18-8 lead, it looked to be an ominous sign for the Scarlet Knights.
Carson and Ajavon made sure it wasn't. After Heather Zurich hit a jumper for a 20-8 lead, Carson and Ajavon combined to score Rutgers' final 17 points of the half, including five apiece in a 10-0 run that pushed the lead to a whopping 21-point bulge at 37-16 with 1:31 left.
"We just tried to play through it," Lady Tigers point guard Erica White said. "Our saying tonight was we want to keep an even keel and don't show any negative emotions. If they hit a shot with a hand in their face you just say good shot. And I commend them, they hit tough shots tonight."
The loss likely ended the brief coaching career of LSU's Bob Starkey, who took over the team when coach Pokey Chatman resigned on March 7 amid allegations of improper conduct involving a former player.
"I really think that we came out and played poorly on a night against a good opponent who played extremely well," Starkey said.
Rutgers held LSU (30-8) to a tournament record-low 26 percent shooting (14-of-53) and held the Lady Tigers without a field goal for more than eight minutes in the second half to help offset the loss of Carson, who sat out the final 13 minutes with a leg cramp.
"I really do believe our steps are in order," Stringer said. "I do believe that this is the team of destiny."
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