Rutgers, Tennessee to meet in regional final

PHILADELPHIA – Rutgers avenged an earlier loss this year to earn the right for a rematch with Tennessee – a team the Scarlet Knights beat handily this season. <p> Rutgers, 28-6, playing before a hearty crowd at the Liacouras Center, defeated Ohio State on Sunday, 64-58, to set up Tuesday's regional final against Tennessee. <p>

It was one of the first questions that coach C. Vivian Stringer faced, to look ahead to Tennessee.

She would have preferred to talk about her team and the stellar play of senior point guard Cappie Pondexter, but she graciously entertained the questions about the Lady Vols.

"It's not often that anyone beats Tennessee," Stringer said. "That's why we're still talking about beating them."

The 65-51 decimation of then-No. 8 Tennessee on Dec. 29 began a glorious week for the Rutgers basketball program. The Scarlet Knights defeated Texas and then LSU, ranked No. 4 and No. 1 respectively, to set the tone for their Big East play. They went on to win the regular season conference championship.

Tennessee and Rutgers played in Philly in 2000 in the Final Four. Tennessee won but fell to UConn in the title game. The winner Tuesday will go to the Final Four in Indianapolis.

Pondexter was a non-factor in the first game this season between Ohio State and Rutgers, which was won by the Buckeyes, 52-50, in Columbus, Ohio. That was the hardly the case this time.

Pondexter had 24 points, five rebounds, four assists and only one turnover in 36 minutes of play.

"I'm glad I had the opportunity to make a difference," Pondexter said.

Pondexter and forward Chelsea Newton are survivors from their freshmen year four years ago in which the Scarlet Knights went 9-20.

It was a period in which the players were "embarrassed to show their faces on campus," Stringer said, and were heaped with abuse.

"They deserve every laugh, every smile," Stringer said.

Ohio State, 30-5, was led by sophomore center Jessica Davenport, who showed why she was the Big 10 Player of the Year and an AP First Team All-American. Davenport had 22 points and 14 rebounds, including six on the offensive glass.

"She definitely is the best center," said Rutgers senior center Rebecca Richman. "She's only a sophomore."

Richman was right, but Rutgers' suffocating defense made Davenport work for every point. She also picked up two quick fouls, but remained in the game and didn't get whistled for the third one until 6:16 remained in the game.

Ohio State coach Jim Foster said her "lack of aggressiveness in the first half was evident," and Davenport played with "tentativeness at not wanting that third one."

But the officials also let the players be physical, and didn't call either team for many fouls.

"It's obvious the NCAA Tournament is played differently than the regular season, and it's something players have to adjust to," Foster said.

"It was a very physical game, but that's expected," Davenport said. "It's tournament time."

Tennessee's game with Rutgers will likely be physical as well. Rutgers also is aware of the fact that senior point guard Loree Moore, who was recovering from a tonsillectomy, didn't play earlier this season.

"They're a great team, and they're playing a lot better," senior guard Chelsea Newton said. "This is not the same team."

Pondexter, who sat out the first half of the season for personal reasons, returned for the first time against Tennessee but played sparingly. She was thrilled with Sunday's win but showed little outward sign of emotion.

"I'm excited deep down inside, but I know we have another 40 minutes," Pondexter said. "We have to play Tennessee next."

Stringer and Tennessee coach Pat Summitt are personal friends, but that won't matter Tuesday.

"We both will be giving it all we can," Stringer said.

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