Final Four teams take common trait to Cleveland
Posted: Wednesday March 28, 2007 2:31PM; Updated: Wednesday March 28, 2007 3:52PM
If defense truly does win championships, everybody at the Final Four has a good shot as all four teams -- Rutgers, LSU, Tennessee and North Carolina -- are holding opponents to less than 60 points a game.
Rutgers manages to slow down the game while its guards make it difficult for opponents to get the ball past mid-court. And when they do, it's not easy to get an uncontested shot off against the Scarlet Knights. They're opponents are shooting just 36 percent.
"They make a lot of things happen in terms of turning the ball over," acting LSU coach Bob Starkey said. "They try and disrupt their opponent. They hang their hat on their defensive play."
Starkey's team has done the same this season. The Tigers have given up just 48.9 points a game, thanks in large part to 6-foot-6 center Sylvia Fowles. Even when she's not blocking shots, Fowles alters them and with more than eight defensive rebounds a game, she doesn't allow many second chances. Just ask Connecticut: The Huskies were helpless against Fowles on the boards in the regional finals, giving up 15 rebounds to Fowles.
"She's a special player," Starkey said. "She changes the game on both ends. She blocks shots, she alters shots, she's also a good screener and a decent passer for a post player. Fortunately she is pretty consistent and plays close to that level most of the time."
For its part, North Carolina's trademark is capitalizing on turnovers and opportunities its defense creates. The Heels push the tempo and don't worry about giving the ball away, but they'll certainly take it from you. North Carolina leads the nation in steals, averaging 14.4. The Heels have turned that into a nation's best 84.6 points a game.
Tennessee hasn't done a bad job of converting its chances either. With a balanced attack led by All-America Candace Parker, the Lady Vols are averaging 74.5 points.
That's where Rutgers and LSU -- who square off in the first semifinal -- are lacking. Neither has the offensive firepower Tennessee and North Carolina carry -- at least not on a consistent basis.
In their opening-round game, the Tigers shot 50 percent from beyond the arc. They struggled to make anything the next time out. Fowles was near perfect, going 9-for-10 from the field. The rest of the team was just 10-for-34.
In fact, Tennessee scored almost as many points in its 98-62 regional final win over Ole Miss as Rutgers and Arizona State combined scored in their regional championship game.
Whether that low-scoring, defense-first mentality of Rutgers and LSU is enough to slow the Lady Vols or Tar Heels in the title game remains to be seen.
"There are a little different styles of play coming in," North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell said. "But there are a lot of ways to get the milk in the jug, as long as it gets there. The teams that are coming in have zeroed in on certain things, and it works for them."