Womhoops Guru

Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Rutgers Rescinds Gift Giveaway for Landmark Win

Guru's note: Another version written for our print edition zoned for New Jersey that, because of the nature of the extended game, was written right at the finish, probably appears somewhere on Philly.com.

Also, for those who have been following the news of the paper, based on an email here and posting by now on Philly.com, there is a tentative agreement on the labor situation at the Inquirer.

By Mel Greenberg

PISCATAWAY, N.J.
_ Rutgers’ fountain of youth sprung a landmark victory here in the Louis A. Brown Athletic Center Tuesday night just when it appeared that the Scarlet Knights might be spending a glum week ahead until Saturday’s night home contest against Iowa.

In the first triple overtime game in the women’s basketball program’s history, Rutgers emerged with an 89-84 triumph after the Scarlet Knights had squandered a 42-22 second-half lead with 16 minutes, 7 seconds left in the game.

Most of the heavy-lifting to provide the victory that got Rutgers back to an even record at 4-4 was provided by the freshmen, especially after junior guards Matee Ajavon and Essence Carson had both fouled out near the end of regulation.

The rally by Mississippi (7-3) in the nonconference game produced an awkward moment in more ways than one for Rutgers’ fans when Rebel senior guard Ashley Awkward nailed a three-pointer with four seconds left in regulation to create a 59-59 deadlock.

It was quite a turnaround from earlier in the half when coach C. Vivian Stringer’s team looked like the Cappie Pondexter-led force of a year ago. At that moment, it seemed the Scarlet Knights, who had struggled defensively much of the season, were getting their denial act together on the heels of a comforting win over Princeton here last Saturday night.

But then again, in terms of relativity, Rutgers was the Big East power being challenged by what might become the best of the Ivy League. Mississippi is one of those Southeastern Conference schools that are always trouble such as a year ago in Oxford when the Rebels upset the Scarlet Knights, who then had long-range thoughts about playing in the NCAA Women’s Final Four.

Rutgers set a school record Tuesday night with 17 blocked shots, eclipsing the 15 rejections in an 82-57 win over West Virginia on Jan. 3, 1987.

Freshman Rashidat Juniad finally got Rutgers to safety with a pair of foul shots with 28 seconds left in the third overtime for an 86-82 lead. She finished with 14 points. Freshman Brittany Ray led the Scarlet Knights by scoring 23 points, and another freshman, Epiphanny Prince, scored 22 and grabbed 10 rebounds. Sophomore Kia Vaughn had 11 points and 13 rebounds, and Carson scored 10. Vaughn had nine blocks, one short of producing a triple double in the stats.

Armintie Price, one of three Mississippi players in double figures, scored a game-high 33 points.

Rutgers seemed to have an advantage in each overtime, but Mississippi kept coming back to extend the action.

“It appears that Rutgers is doing a lot of things with this group that Rutgers has never done before,” Vaughn said with a laugh afterwards.

But Heather Zurich also talked about the reality of the night.

“We have to learn to finish games,” she said. “I mean, we came out, we had them down by 20 in the second half, and I don’t know if we didn’t have enough energy, but on the defensive side, we let them get back into it. We have to learn to close teams out.”

Still, for a team that had just dropped out of the Associated Press Poll for the first time in 43 weeks since the end of the 2003-04 season, Stringer was willing to enjoy the moment. That was especially true considering a previous overtime encounter this season resulted in a loss to Pepperdine in Malibu, Calif.

“I thought Epiphanny did a nice job setting up isolations,” Stringer said. “What did we learn? Well, they started pressing us and we weren’t sure as ball handlers. We started dribbling the ball off our own legs and things of that sort. Straight up open court strips. That made everyone else nervous and uncomfortable because we were taking our time getting the ball down the floor.

“But what was key was there were certain isolations where we now know who we can count on to finish those isolations,” Stringer said. “I hope that will help us a little later.

“I’m hoping, having seen those freshmen handle that kind of pressure, that I can be more trusting of them being together. Because it was a bit much to have three of them together. It’s got to go a long way for them. And a long way for us. The freshmen grew up quite a bit.

“We lost to that team last year. So it was kind of nice to see us come back.”

-- Mel

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