Closer Look: Rutgers-LSU
Knights' trademark tenacity fuels club's semifinal win
Posted: Monday April 2, 2007 1:04AM; Updated: Monday April 2, 2007 1:29AM
CLEVELAND -- This game was ugly and low-scoring, but beyond that, it hardly went according to script. For starters, the Scarlet Knights, not known for their three-point shooting (unjustifiably, it turns out) started the game hitting three-pointers like they were channeling the guards of Vanderbilt or Middle Tennessee State. Before the first half was over, three players had connected on eight of 10 three-pointers, with junior guard Matee Ajavon leading the way with a perfect 4-for-4.
"We didn't plan to shoot threes," said Ajavon, who is the fourth-leading three-point shooter on the team. "The shots were just there."
Secondly, Rutgers, which generally gets a lot of offense from its disruptive defense, didn't score a point in transition. Neither did LSU. Furthermore, the anticipated matchup between LSU's 6-foot-6 star center Sylvia Fowles and Rutgers' 6-4 sophomore Kia Vaughn fizzled because Vaughn and her teammates did such a great job of neutralizing Fowles.
If there was one play that captured the spirit of this game, at least from LSU's point of view, it was this: With 26 seconds left in the first half, Fowles attempted her only shot of the half's final 15:48 minutes, missing a three-footer. As she ran back on defense with her headband askew, she let out a howl of frustration. For the half, Fowles had twice as many turnovers (four) as points in the first half. The second half wouldn't get any better: The evening's line for the breakout star of the Fresno Regional was five points, seven rebounds, two blocks, a steal and four turnovers.
Her night was representative of her team's: LSU's 35 points were the second-lowest total in school history and the fewest scored in Final Four history. "Not to take anything away from Rutgers's defense, but I don't feel that they had to do much," said Fowles. "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."
At halftime, Rutgers made a slight adjustment, doubling Fowles instead of tripling her. It hardly made a difference.
PLAYER WHO IMPRESSED ME
Essence Carson, the Rutgers junior who plays four musical instruments -- piano, bass guitar, saxophone and drums -- and signed with the Scarlet Knights, in part because coach C. Vivian Stringer impressed her by playing the first movement of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata on the piano. ( "She was pretty good for someone who doesn't play all the time," says Carson.) She showed great versatility on the court, as well, racking up 15 points -- including three of four threes -- six rebounds and a block in the first half that helped give Rutgers a 37-19 halftime advantage. Honorable mention for PWIM goes to Vaughn, who sat for much of the first half with foul trouble; but when she was in the game used her body brilliantly to keep Fowles off-balance and frustrated. "Kia was very poised tonight," said assistant coach Jolette Law. "She did all the dirty work."
Law and several players credited the first-half barrage of three-pointers to a drill called "33," one the Scarlet Knights do in practice every day. "If you make a three, it's two points," explains freshman Epiphanny Prince. "If you miss it but get the rebound without hitting the floor, it's one point. We go to 33. Our first half did look like that drill. Everybody was on fire."
THE BIG PICTURE
This is the fourth team Stringer has taken to the Final Four (she also took Cheyney State in 1982; Iowa in 1993 and Rutgers in 2000); but this group, which includes five freshmen and no seniors, was not the team she expected would take her to her first national final since 1982. The Scarlet Knights have had a great run with defense as their calling card, but they will have to put together another potent offensive performance if they want to get past Tennessee and give Stringer her first title.