By Mel Greenberg
PISCTAWAY, N.J. – After Rutgers won its third straight Big East game Tuesday night, beating Cincinnati, 71-52, at the Louis A. Brown Athletic Center, coach C. Vivian Stringer revealed a request to her from junior guard Epiphanny Prince.
Might it be possible because the Scarlet Knights (17-10, 8-6 Big East) had played consistently well in the latest stretch that the team could return to its regular locker room.
The venue had been empty since Stringer tossed them out after a near loss at Temple, Dec.1, repeating the punishment she dealt two seasons ago before Rutgers began to make a reversal in mid-January and surged straight to the NCAA title game.
“We are way behind where we were then,” Stringer said, recalling a turnaround that began in mid-January. “And there is a lot of damage that has to be undone.”
The damage has caused the tight situation the Scarlet Knights have placed themselves in terms of not making the NCAA tournament in which Rutgers is one of 16 host sites for the first and second rounds.
That awareness, aside, Stringer rewarded the team for its effort and accepted Prince’s request.
“We’re starting to look like what a Scarlet Knight should be,” Stringer said.
Rutgers used a balanced attack in beating Cincinnati (13-14, 3-11), led by senior center Kia Vaughn, who scored 15 points and grabbed eight rebounds. Wilmington’s Khadijah Rushdan added 13 points and received praise from Stringer for playing like the point guard the Scarlet Knights need to return to the postseason.
“Without a point guard, we’re not going anywhere,” Stringer said.
Heather Zurich, the beneficiary of Cincinnati’s double-team of Vaughn, shot 5-for-7 from the field and scored 12 points, while Prince, who has had to carry the scoring load most of the season, contributed 11 points.
More important, the team grabbed 14 offensive rebounds and committed just six turnovers. The defense forced Cincinnati into five shot clock violations in the first half.
“I think coach Stringer has their attention now and they’re playing with a lot of confidence,” Cincinnati coach J. Kelley Hall said. “Defensively, this team is coming around and it’s been pretty good for three games in a row. I've been coaching a long time and I don't think I've ever seen five violations in a half.”
Vaughn is beginning to look like the force she was expected to be back at the outset of the season.
“The teams in this league are pretty good, but you’re not going to guard Kia Vaughn with just one person,” Hall said. “She’s too good. I don’t care how many she’s averaging, she’s going to be a first round draft choice, and she’s going to be playing in the WNBA.
“We tried to play her with a player and a half, the other half was scrambling out trying to get Zurich and it didn’t work for us,” Hall observed. “You better double team her or she’s going to cause problems.”
Since the recent loss to Maryland, the Scarlet Knights’ opponents back in conference have not been the elite crowd.
The next test comes Monday when top-ranked Connecticut finished the home-and-home series and regular season here.
If Rutgers needs to make an impression, losing respectable would be fine enough.
When it comes to picking the 33 at-large teams for the NCAA field, the Scarlet Knights’ computer data would stand out when it comes to moving the last teams off the discussion board and into the tournament.
But as one committee member noted: Being bounced early in the Big East field by a team they should beat could cause them problems.
North Carolina State Looks to Future
Officials at North Carolina State are planning to conduct a nationwide search for the successor to Kay Yow, the longtime Wolfpack coach, a Hall of Famer, who died last month after a lengthy battle against breast cancer.
Interim coach Stephanie Glance, Yow’s longtime aide, told the Raleigh News & Observer she told N.C. State athletic director Lee Fowler she is interested in taking the position on a permanent basis.
Besides holding Yow’s blessing, Glance would appear to be the choice of the fan base and team to keep the continuity going.
Shortly after Yow’s funeral, a buzz from sources in the Tar Heel State indicated Glance might be interested in running the Kow Yow/WBCA Foundation that is involved in the fight against cancer.
If that was true, the question became who would be a worthy successor.
One prominent name tossed around was Anne Donovan, the 2008 gold-medal winning Olympic coach and former Old Dominion star who lives in Charlotte and also coached in the WNBA, most notably Seattle to the 2003 championship.
Donovan recently told the Guru she was going to look at collegiate jobs this spring that became open but would not talk about N.C. State until Glance’s intentions were known.
Another possibility is Hofstra coach Krista Kilburn-Stevesky, a former player for the Wolfpack who was the first Maggie Dixon rookie coach winner from the WBCA. She also said she would wait until Glance made her intentions known.
Two separate sources with knowledge of North Carolina State told the Guru Sunday prior to the News & Observer story that the school would conduct a nationwide search, but that Glance was very much interested in staying on the sidelines with the Wolfpack.
Campaigning For Perretta
After Louisville beat Villanova on Saturday at the Pavilion, Angel McCoughtry, the Cardinals’ star player, wanted to make an extra statement to reporters who thought her interview had concluded.
“I want you to write this,” McCoughtry said. “Are you listening? They’re a good team and (Harry Perretta) should be (Big East) coach of the year.”
Villanova is (17-11, 9-5), which lost at Connecticut, 74-47, Tuesday night, is holding fourth place a game ahead of DePaul, which was upset at home by South Florida, 76-69 Tuesday night.
The Wildcats upset the Demons and have a tiebreaker over them and Notre Dame. Perretta’s team was picked 10th in the preseason by the Big East coaches.
The win over DePaul started a brutal four-game stretch in which Villanova lost at nationally-ranked Pittsburgh, then to Louisville, and finally Connecticut.
Virginia Changes the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Equation
Looking ahead to the ACC tournament, the thinking was that it might be better to finish fourth instead of third because Florida State, which appeared heading for a first-place finish, might be an easier opponent in the semifinals.
That projection needs revision after Virginia upset the Seminoles, 68-63, in Tallahassee, Tuesday night.
The loss brought Florida State back to a first-place tie in the loss column with Maryland.
If the two are deadlocked at the finish, the Terrapins would get the top ACC tournament seed because of the head-to-head win over the Seminoles.
The Terrapins have moved into a favorite slot for an NCAA tournament No. 1 seed, attainable perhaps if the only slip between now and the finish would be a loss to Duke or North Carolina in the conference tournament semifinals or finals.
Duke and North Carolina could determine the third and fourth spots when the two meet Sunday at Duke.
Traditionally, usually some amount of time elapses before collegiate stars are brought back to their alma maters to have their numbers retired.
These days, some schools pay tribute while individuals are still performing at their institutions.
Maryland, on Friday night, will raise the jersey numbers of senior stars Kristi Toliver and Marissa Coleman to the top of the Comcast Center.
Both are expected to be taken quickly in the WNBA draft. The duo’s class record of 118-18 became the all-time mark at Maryland Sunday after the Terrapins thrashed Duke, 77-59, with Toliver scoring 34 points and Coleman adding 24 to reach 2,000 career points to go with her more than 1,000 rebounds.
The pair combined to nearly outscore Duke, finishing with just a point less.
Toliver has been a regular Jacqueline The Giant Killer against the Blue Devils, having launched the buzzer-beating three-pointer in regulation in Boston in 2006 that sent Maryland into overtime and an eventual win for the NCAA title.
“I’m going to miss this one of these days when I don’t sit here anymore with these two special seniors,” Maryland coach Brenda Frese said Sunday. “What a game and what a convincing win.
“Just love where this team is playing, we’re just clicking.”
A year ago, Maryland honored Willingboro’s Crystal Langhorne and Cheltenham’s Laura Harper before they graduated and went in the first round of the WNBA draft.
Connecticut recently made the same move honoring senior Renee Montgomery.
“That really surprised me when I heard they were going to do that,” said Temple coach Tonya Cardoza, who was a longtime UConn assistant before joining the Owls last July.
“But Renee was one of my guards so obviously I endorsed the move when I was told,” Cardoza said.
Temple, though still on the NCAA bubble, is making a charge toward extending the Owls’ string of five straight tournament appearances.
Cardoza’s group could catch a lot of attention by beating No. 13 Xavier, which visits the Liacouras Center Wednesday night with an unbeaten record in Atlantic Ten competition.
Temple then finishes up Sunday at George Washington.
That game against the Colonials could have extra meaning in that Cardoza and Mike Bozeman, a former GW assistant, seem leading contenders for the Maggie Dixon Award the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association hands out to a newcomer in the profession.
Another candidate is Lindsay Gottlieb, the University of California Santa Barbara coach who was a former assistant of Joanne Boyle at California. Gottlieb succeeded retired veteran Mark French.
Meanwhile Drexel and Virginia Commonwealth, locked in a first-place tie in the Colonial Athletic Association, collide Thursday night at the Daskalakis Athletic Center.
VCU coach Beth Cunningham, a former Notre Dame star, played for the Philadelphia Rage in the former American Basketball Association.
Temple, Villanova, and Drexel are currently under major consideration by the Women’s NIT if any do not make the NCAA field.