The hex continues
Fowles nets just 5 points as LSU falls in semis again
Posted: Sunday April 1, 2007 10:57PM; Updated: Sunday April 1, 2007 11:02PM
CLEVELAND (AP) -- Her headband crooked, Sylvia Fowles turned away from a missed jump hook and screamed, angrily pumping her fists and stomping her feet as she ran back to LSU's defensive end of the court.
Usually, it's Fowles dishing out the in-your-face defense. Sunday night, the tables were turned. So, she straightened her headband and tried to adjust after another physical play from a hot-shooting Rutgers squad that was pulling away fast.
Suddenly, the same LSU team that dominated Connecticut in a 23-point victory days earlier looked nervous, tight and overwhelmed.
"It's hard to believe," said Fowles, whose team was down by double digits before five minutes had elapsed. "I feel sorry I came out sluggish like I did and couldn't do anything to contribute to the team. But it just was one of those nights when our basketball game was just terrible."
The Final Four has been cruel to LSU (30-8), which has appeared in women's college basketball's marquee event four consecutive seasons without winning a single semifinal. In 2004, LSU lost a 52-50 thriller to Tennessee in New Orleans. In subsequent seasons, the Lady Tigers lost to Baylor by 11 and to Duke by 19.
"It's just crazy that we can make it here and not get over the hump," said Fowles, a junior. "Not too many teams can get here. I'm sure we'll find a way -- sooner or later."
In the locker room after the game, every player cried.
"And that's the first time in four Final Fours that's happened," said acting head coach Bob Starkey said. "This team really cared, and I think this team is closer to getting over the hump even though you might not have been able to read that on the scoreboard tonight. Without any seniors, I think this is the kind of thing that will maybe galvanize them and, regardless of who's coaching next year, lead them on to something special."
Rutgers, which neutralized Fowles' inside defensive presence with eight 3-pointers in the first half, led by 21 points before 19 minutes elapsed. The Scarlet Knights won by 24.
Fowles finished with five points and seven rebounds in a performance also marred by four turnovers. Through the 37 previous games, she averaged 17.2 points and 12.7 rebounds.
Fowles said Rutgers' defense was the quickest to the ball she had faced, making it hard to get open for passes inside, shoot when she did get the ball or even pass it back out to the perimeter.
LSU shot 26 percent and seemed a step behind from the opening tip, when Fowles was caught still setting her feet while Rutgers' Kia Vaughn easily won possession.
Fowles then lost a potential defensive rebound out of bounds, setting up the game's opening basket -- fittingly, a 3-pointer by Rutgers' Matee Ajavon.
Fowles wasn't the only LSU player struggling. Ashley Thomas hesitated when she appeared to be open under the basket and instead ended up at the foul line, where she missed both free throws. Qiuanna Chaney, one of the team's best perimeter shooters, clanked a pair of long 3-point attempts off the rim.
"They had good defense, I'm not going to take anything away from Rutgers," Chaney said. "But we still, if you go back and look at it, we missed a lot of layups ... free throws and some open jump shots."
When LSU's uncharacteristic missed defensive assignments became too much, Starkey interrupted a potential LSU fast break with a timeout to sternly lecture the Lady Tigers.
It was too late.
Rutgers already had seized control with a combination of strong perimeter shooting and physical, stifling defense that included full-court pressure.
It was a bitter end to a good run for Starkey, who might have coached his last game at LSU. He took over just before the tournament when Pokey Chatman resigned amid allegations of improper conduct with one or more former players. Starkey, a career assistant, won his first four games as a head coach to get the Lady Tigers to Cleveland, but he has said he doesn't want the job permanently.
Starkey has said he would like to remain as an assistant, a position he's held with the women's squad nine years, preceded by seven seasons with LSU's men's team. Perhaps not so coincidentally, LSU's women have been to the NCAA tournament nine straight times.
Whether Starkey stays in Baton Rouge, likely will be up to the next coach.
"I'm pretty sure whoever comes in is not going to change much because this is a team that has been to the Final Four for a fourth straight time," Chaney said. "I hope they keep the staff we have here, whoever comes in."
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