Rutgers to face Ohio State -- Scouting OSU

The Rutgers Scarlet Knights women's basketball team is two wins away from reaching the Final Four. The No. 2-seeded Buckeyes will face No. 3 seed Rutgers on Sunday in Philadelphia. OSU edged Rutgers 52-50 earlier this season. However, Rutgers is already 1-0 in avenging regular-season losses in this year's NCAA tournament.

The Buckeyes (30-4) will make their first appearance in the regional semifinals since 1993 when they face Rutgers (27-6) at approximately 2:30 p.m. Sunday at the Liacouras Center.

The No. 2 seed Buckeyes earned their bid to the Sweet 16 with an 86-45 win over No. 15 seed Holy Cross in the first round March 20 and a 75-65 victory vs. No. 7 Maryland in the second round Tuesday.

Ohio State and Rutgers have met once this season, with the Buckeyes claiming a 52-50 decision Jan. 16 in Value City Arena. The teams clashed in 2004 as well, with Rutgers scoring a 56-53 victory Jan. 4 in Piscataway, N.J.

"I think it's sort of interesting," Foster, the OSU Head Coach said. "It's almost like we are in the same conference. We played at Rutgers last year. They played here this year. This is the third time we've played them in about a 15 month period and that's like you're playing somebody in your own conference. So, we're familiar with each other and that usually makes for a pretty interesting basketball game."

Rutgers' quickness and aggressiveness was a lot for the Buckeyes to handle on Jan. 16. But Foster does not seem too concerned about the matchup.

"Well, if I remember the game, we both got after each other and both caused each other some problems," he said. "I think we're both aggressive. We both get after it and I think that's what the game is going to be like on Sunday."

Foster was asked if he thinks Rutgers is playing better right now, then it was when OSU played the Scarlet Knights earlier in the season.

"Well, when we had played them earlier, they had just beaten Texas, LSU, and Tennessee consecutively," he said. "So, I don't know how much better you can be playing."

Ohio State sophomore center Jessica Davenport continues to have an outstanding season. She had 15 points and nine rebounds in the win over Maryland.

Davenport, the Big Ten Player of the Year and first-team All-American selection, is averaging 19.3 points and 9.1 rebounds per game.

Foster says Davenport is wise beyond her years. Yes, it helps being 6-5 and athletic, but she always seems to have the mental edge as well.

"The thing that sets her apart is her maturity at a young age," Foster said. "A lot of other kids evolved and developed and maybe we were spending a lot of time when they were freshmen and sophomores on their development between the ears and emotionally. We haven't had to spend a lot of time on that with Jess. And therefore, we're just working on basketball things. And as a result, she's better, quicker. And that's a credit to her."

When Davenport came out of Columbus Independence High School in 2003, she wasn't even considered the best post player in the state. Alison Bales from Beavercreek, who is now a top shot blocker at Duke, was rated higher. There were other Ohio players that were rated as high as Davenport as well. But Foster saw something special in Davenport.

"Yes, I think the most important component with the young bigs is what they are between the ears," Foster said. "And her maturity between the ears was obvious from the first phone call, to the first meeting face-to-face, I knew without a doubt we would spend no time on some of the issues you have to deal with on some other kids. Jess just stood out. She was much different that way. She's a mature person. She's very comfortable with who she is."

The soft-spoken Davenport elaborated on her coach's comments.

"I think my maturity comes from just putting things into perspective," Davenport said. "This year, there's a lot of different responsibilities that I have and just putting them into perspective and making sure that I'm doing things to help my teammates."

Maryland double-teamed Davenport every time she touched the ball on the low block and you can bet Rutgers will try a similar tactic. But Davenport has seen a little bit of everything this year.

"I think just learning how to read different defenses is something I've improved in the most this season," Davenport said. "I'm getting a lot of different things thrown at me and the better I get at reading defense and finding out where my teammates are on the floor… (Foster) says we need to get better ball movement in order for us to get great shots."

Rutgers only gave up 52 points to the Buckeyes in the earlier meeting and Davenport knows it will be another defensive grind.

"Well, I think they are good defending team and I expect nothing less this game," she said.

SCOUTING THE SCARLET KNIGHTS

Rutgers will be making its first "Sweet 16" appearance since 2000 after a 62-37 victory over Hartford in the first round and a 61-54 win over Temple in second-round action. The No. 3-seed Scarlet Knights secured their first-ever outright Big East regular season title March 1 with a 51-39 win at Villanova. Rutgers earned the No. 1 seed in the Big East Tournament, but fell in the finals to Connecticut. The Scarlet Knights enter the regional semifinals with a 27-6 overall mark and were 14-2 during Big East competition.

Three Rutgers players average double-figure scoring, led by senior Cappie Pondexter with 13.9 points per game. Teammates Matee Ajavon and Michelle Campbell average 12.4 and 11.3 points per game, respectively. Campbell leads the squad with 5.8 rebounds per game and Essence Carson pulls down 5.6 caroms per contest. C. Vivian Stringer is in her 10th season at the helm of the Scarlet Knights and holds a 202-110 (.647) record at Rutgers. She is in her 34th year as a head coach with a 722-245 (.747) overall record. Stringer is making her 18th appearance in the NCAA tournament.

LADY BUCKS VS. SCARLET KNIGHTS

Ohio State and Rutgers met earlier this season, with the Buckeyes pulling out a 52-50 victory over the Scarlet Knights in the Big Ten/Big East Challenge in Columbus. Jessica Davenport led Ohio State with 22 points and seven rebounds in the contest. Cappie Pondexter tallied 20 points for Rutgers.

With the win in January, Ohio State leads the all-time series with Rutgers, 4-3. The two teams have met one previous time in the NCAA tournament, with the Buckeyes earning a 91-60 win over the Scarlet Knights in the second round of the 1993 tournament. Ohio State knocked off No. 4/7 Rutgers, 52-50, Jan. 16 at Value City Arena in game one of the 2005 Big Ten/BIG EAST Challenge.

The Buckeyes trailed by as many as seven points in the second half, but the squad shot 76.5 percent (13-of-17) in the final 20 minutes to chip away at the lead and capture a win over its highest-ranked opponent this season.

Rutgers' Matee Ajavon hit two of her 20 points to tie the game at 45 with 2:35 left. Ohio State's Brandie Hoskins hit a layup and the team forced a Rutgers' shot clock violation to regain possession of the ball. Caity Matter drained her only 3-pointer of the game to give the Buckeyes a 50-45 advantage with 1:17 left.

Ashley Allen stole the ball from Ajavon with 56 ticks left on the clock. Hoskins went 1-for-2 from the free-throw line and Rutgers' Essence Carson nailed a trey to keep the game within reach at 51-48 in favor of Ohio State. Stephanie Blanton sank one of her two attempts from the charity stripe with 10 seconds left to put the game out of reach at 52-50.

FOSTER AND STRINGER SHARE ELITE COMPANY

Foster, who is serving as head coach for his third Division I women's basketball program at Ohio State, is just one of seven coaches all-time to lead three different teams to a national Top 25 ranking by the Associated Press. Rutgers head coach Vivian Stringer is another member of the select group.

Mike and the Big Dog's LLC


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