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Precious points

LSU-Rutgers showdown will be all about defense

Posted: Sunday April 1, 2007 11:47AM; Updated: Sunday April 1, 2007 12:08PM
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LSU (30-7) vs. Rutgers (26-8)
Sunday, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN
Quicken Loans Arena (20,000)

Have you ever tried to pry open an oyster with your fingers? That's what getting a basket will feel like for both teams in this matchup, which promises to be a low-scoring, physical, grind-it-out affair between two of the nation's top defensive teams.

For the tournament, Rutgers has been holding opponents to an average of 47 points and 30.6 percent shooting (24.4 percent from the arc.) and getting 12 steals while forcing opponents to 16.3 turnovers a game. LSU, the top defensive team in the nation all season, has been even stingier, holding opponents to 43.8 points and 33 percent shooting (22 percent from the arc) while getting 10.8 steals a game and forcing 15.5 turnovers.

A game in the 60s would suggest an overtime or two. ("The score might be 22-21," says Rutgers assistant Jolette Law, only half-joking.) Rutgers likes to press, and it generates a lot of offense from turnovers. LSU prefers to deploy its excellent help defense in the halfcourt. LSU relies heavily on an inside-out combination of Sylvia Fowles (18 ppg) and Quianna Chaney (14 ppg), although as Connecticut found out in the Fresno Regional Final, the Lady Tigers have a lot of other offensive weapons, such as Ashley Thomas, RaShonta LeBlanc and Allison Hightower, any combination of which could cause damage on any given night.

Rutgers, on the other hand, has four starters -- Matee Ajavon, Kia Vaughn, Essence Carson and Epiphanny Prince, one of five freshmen on the team -- averaging around 12 points, and five different players have scored 20 points in a game at some point this season. Indeed, junior guard Ajavon has become a threat to do that every night: she has scored 20 points in three of the last four games.

Eight of LSU's players have been to the national semifinal before; none of the Scarlet Knights have. Will that make a difference in the game? "Once the ball's thrown up, I don't think it matters," says LSU coach Bob Starkey. "If experience was that important, we wouldn't be 0-3 in (semifinal) games."

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