Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Rutgers' SWEETEST 16!

Daddgummit! They do'ed it! Who woulda thunk it?

A couple of days ago I said on this blog that the Rutgers women's basketball team would have to play a perfect game to beat a second seeded, 30-3 Auburn team in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

And they did just that.

In a season where there was no perfection and only alot of erratic play, Rutgers played their game of the year....and possibly of a couple of years...in destroying an overwhelmed Auburn team 80-52. And it wasn't even that close.

Khadijah Rushdan scored the opening bucket for RU a few seconds after the tip, then it was off to the races, and Rutgers never looked back. Then it was Epiphanny Prince with a two pointer, Heather Zurich with a jumper for two, and Brittany Ray hit a three to make it 9-0 Rutgers at the 17:33 mark of the first half, with Auburn Coach Nell Fortner calling a timeout to stop the bleeding.

Travesha Jackson made a layup for Auburn at 16:48 to finally get Auburn on the board, 9-2. And that seven point deficit was as close as Auburn got the rest of the night.

Rutgers center Kia Vaughn (15 points, 11 rebounds) made her first field goal at 14:25, Rutgers led 15-4. At 13:17 Zurich was fouled making a three pointer, then converted the free throw for a four point play, and it was Rutgers 19-4. Then another three by Ray, and then a two pointer by backup center Rashidat Junaid gave Rutgers a 24-6 advantage at the 10:16 of the first half.

At halftime, the score was 43-28 Rutgers. If this was a boxing match you could have stopped it right there. In the second half RU came out a little chilly, and Auburn was able to cut the lead to single digits, 45-34 after Whitney Boddie hit a layup for Auburn. then RU was able to stretch the lead back to 10 on a free throw by Rushdan, then came another three pointer by Ray at 14:17 to make it Rutgers, 49-36.

Then it was time for Rutgers All-American Prince to do her stuff, with strong support by Vaughn. Prince finished the game with 27 points, 6 assists, 5 rebounds, and only one turnover.

When the smoke had cleared the final was 80-52 Rutgers beating Auburn, and moving on to the Sweet 16 for the fifth consecutive year.

The offense for Rutgers was tremendous, and defense stifling. Zurich and Ray were charged with defending Auburn's Boddie and their superstar DeWanna Bonner, who scored 10 and 17 points respectively, many of which came when the game was out of reach.

Going to the game last night I felt that Rutgers would need to score at least 70 points to win, and they needed to keep Auburn in the 60's to have any chance of winning. In my heart, I didn't think it was possible....but the fan in me said, they can find a way. Its March, they're Rutgers, this is what Rutgers does in March. But I really expected a close game...and honestly, I was prepared to see Auburn come out with a win.

I never, in my wildest dreams, could have foreseen this, for all intents and purposes, a first round TKO of a very good team from a great conference.

This win over Auburn redeemed a season of inexplicable losses, meltdowns, cold shooting, and defensive lapses....no one is going to remember the struggle to beat Prairie View A&M by two points in December. Or being blown out by Stanford in Palo Alto, 81-47 last November. Or needing double OT to beat a mediocre Georgetown team, and then days later losing to Pitt in OT, after having a lead in the game and in overtime only to watch it evaporate. And the loss on national TV to Maryland, 67-47 on February 15th, leaving the Knights at 14-10 with only five games left in the regular season.

And of course, the big one....leading Tennessee by 20 at the half, 33-13- on CBS on a Saturday afternoon this past January 3rd....and losing the game, 55-51, for the greatest comeback in the history of Lady Vols basketball.

But has fate would have it...Pat Summitt and Tennessee are "one and done" for the first time in their illustrious history. Pat had her team practice yesterday after being eliminated from the tournament. I wonder what they're doing today?

We know what Rutgers will be doing....preparing for Purdue in Oklahoma City this weekend.

This was the most amazing and unexpected treat for Rutgers fans...one game that redeemed what at one time appeared to be a lost season.


I ask again....who woulda thunk it?

More about the game from ESPN's GRAHAM HAYS here.

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