Rutgers coach working overtime preparing for Texas Tech
Posted: Wednesday March 17, 1999 01:01 AM
PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) -- There don't seem to be enough hours in a day for C. Vivian Stringer these days, although the Rutgers basketball coach gave herself time for a brief on-court birthday party at practice on Tuesday.
"Sweet 16," Stringer joked when asked her age, of course, alluding to No. 9 Rutgers' upcoming game with No. 6 Texas Tech (30-3) in the semifinals of the Midwest Regional at Normal, Ill., on Saturday.
The only women's coach to take two different teams to the Final Four, Stringer thinks Rutgers (28-5) has the talent and chemistry to become her third, and to go to San Jose, Calif., to play for the national championship.
Several times during the news conference, she used the word "special" to describe this athletic team that starts three sophomores, a junior and a senior.
"We decided we want to be there and we've also decided we will pay the price, whatever the price is," Stringer, 51, said. "Somebody may be better, but they have to prove it."
That may take a lot the way the Knights played in the subregional here in the opening two rounds of the NCAA tournament. They built a 28-point lead against Ivy League champion Dartmouth and won by 14 in the opening round. The second-round game against Arizona of the Pac-10 on Sunday night was even more impressive as Rutgers won by 43, the school's largest NCAA Tournament victory.
Just before dawn the following morning, Stringer was still in her office cutting up game film. She was back on the court later that morning at practice and she has been paying the price ever since, with her red eyes and bags under them attesting to about three or four hours' sleep a night.
"I don't want to have any regrets," said Stringer, who took Cheyney State to the title game and lost to Louisiana Tech in 1982. In 1993, her Iowa team was beaten by Vanderbilt in the national semifinal.
What makes this team so dangerous is its athleticism, smothering defense and depth. The Knights can run the court, have outstanding 3-point shooters in Shawnetta Stewart (14.1 points) and Tomora Young (11.0) and a dominant player inside in Tammy Sutton-Brown, at least that's the way she has played in the tournament, going 11-for-11 from the field and 9-for-9 from the free throw line.
"That's the best thing about our team, no one has to be the go-to person. No one has to score 40 or 50 points in order for us to be successful," said point guard Tasha Pointer, who averages 10.4 points and 6.9 assists. "All you have to do is come in and contribute as much as you can and play with intensity on defense."
Defense is Rutgers' trademark. It finished second in the nation in scoring defense, giving up 55.4 points. Only 11 teams have shot better than 40 percent from the field against them this season, just one in the last 12 games.
"We are peaking now at the right time," said Stringer, whose 594 career wins ranks third among active coaches behind Jody Conradt of Texas and Pat Summit of Tennessee. "I think what we just finished witnessing in the last couple of games has been finally the team we thought would be there a long time ago."
Rutgers also advanced to the round of 16 last year before losing to three-time defending national champion Tennessee, a game that taught the Knights there are no off nights allowed in the big dance.
"I think only we can beat ourselves this year," Pointer said.
Second-seeded Texas Tech will get a chance to prove the third-seeded Knights wrong on Saturday night around 9:30 p.m. The winner will play the winner of the game between No. 1 Purdue and No. 14 North Carolina on Monday.
"We want to go to the next level," Stringer said. "We have to focus on what we have to do so we can buy shorts and go to California."
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