Rutgers 59, LSU 35

Sunday, April 1st 2007, 8:53 pm
By: News On 6

CLEVELAND (AP) _ Rutgers' improbable run isn't over.

The Scarlet Knights earned their first trip to the national championship behind Hall of Fame coach C. Vivian Stringer with another unlikely scenario _ dominating the LSU Lady Tigers from the opening tip.

Matee Ajavon scored 16 points and Rutgers (27-8) hounded 6-foot-6 Sylvia Fowles to beat LSU 59-35 in a national semifinal Sunday night. The Scarlet Knights used a swarming defense and hot touch from behind the arc to blow out LSU, which scored the fewest points ever in the Final Four _ Louisiana Tech had 44 vs. Tennessee in '87 title game.

Frustrated by Rutgers' relentless defenders, Fowles was held to five points and seven rebounds.

Rutgers double- and triple-teamed Fowles, with Vaughn getting help from Heather Zurich.

``I tried to keep her as far away from the basket as I could,'' Vaughn said.

The Lady Tigers (30-8), who were making their fourth straight Final Four appearance, ended a surprising tournament run behind acting head coach Bob Starkey. He was thrust into the spotlight when coach Pokey Chatman abruptly resigned March 7 amid allegations of improper conduct with one or more former players.

Erica White scored nine points to lead LSU, which also set Final Four lows for field goal percentage (26.4) and fewest field goals (14).

The Rutgers crowd chanted Stringer's initials ``C-V-S'' in the closing minutes. Stringer was hugged by her entire staff as she makes her way back to the title game 25 years after she took Cheyney there.

``Wow,'' Stringer said. ``That's the best word to describe what happened here. We talked about believing in what we know. No one expected us to be here, but these players believe in themselves. We focused on the defense. We didn't read into the hype.

``Guess we'll see all you guys here on Tuesday.''

With five freshmen on the roster, the Scarlet Knights started the season 2-4 and are just the third No. 4 seed to reach the championship. They'll face the winner of the North Carolina-Tennessee game and try to become the lowest seed to win an NCAA title.

``It's a dream come true,'' Stringer said. ``Work hard, get some rest and see what we can do in this next one.''

Essence Carson scored 15 points before leaving with leg cramps in the second half. She hit three 3-pointers and Rutgers was 10-of-20 from behind the arc, but only 20-of-51 overall.

``It feels great to have gotten this far. But we can't give up now. Why just settle for this?'' Carson said. ``We came from nothing and built our foundation. To give up now would fall short of what she wants to do.''

LSU was in trouble from the opening whistle and never improved. Kia Vaughn won the tip after Fowles appeared unready and barely got off the ground.

Ajavon hit a 3-pointer and Rutgers broke out to a 12-2 lead in the first 5 minutes, sending the Rutgers cheering section to its feet.

Fowles was held to 1-for-4 shooting over that span and unbelievably didn't take another shot until the closing seconds of the half. A defender knocked her headband askew on the play and she missed, then screamed out in anger as she ran down the court.

When Vaughn got her second foul midway through the first half, it seemed Fowles might get her chances after all.

But freshman Rashidat Junaid held her own against Fowles. With three freshman on the floor, Rutgers increased its lead to 21 on another Ajavon 3-pointer late in the first half.

LSU went right to Fowles on the first possession of the second half and she scored easily, but got nothing else going the rest of the way.

``She was a little frustrated,'' Ajavon said. ``It was just a defensive effort. ... We're here to stay.''