Rutgers 64, Arizona State 45

Monday, March 26th 2007, 9:25 pm
By: News On 6

GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) _ Good Knight, Rutgers! C. Vivian Stringer and her scrappy Scarlet Knights are headed to the Final Four.

Kia Vaughn had 17 points and 10 rebounds while dominating the paint to power Rutgers to a 64-45 victory over Arizona State on Monday night in the Greensboro Regional finals, clinching the Scarlet Knights' second trip to the national semifinals.

Matee Ajavon had 20 points, Essence Carson added 11 and Epiphanny Prince had 10 points and 10 rebounds for the Scarlet Knights (26-8), who led by 24 and held a 48-26 rebounding advantage in winning their seventh straight.

Now it's on to Cleveland, where they will face either LSU or Connecticut from the Fresno Regional on Sunday in the Final Four.

The 4th-seeded Scarlet Knights (26-8) almost saw their season end Saturday when top-seeded Duke had a chance to win it in the final second. But ACC player of the year Lindsey Harding missed 2-free throws with 0.1 second left and Rutgers escaped with a stunning 53-52 upset.

The youthful Knights _ who have five freshmen and no seniors on the roster _ had no trouble dodging a letdown, thoroughly dominating 3rd-seeded Arizona State and pulling another upset to reach the Final Four for the second time and first since 2000.

The players hammed it up at midcourt, dancing as they donned championship caps and T-shirts while thanking the several hundred fans who made the trip to Tobacco Road.

Stringer, the first coach to lead three programs to the Final Four, is headed to college basketball's biggest stage for the fourth time.

This deep tournament run came with a Rutgers team that became the lowest seed to reach the Final Four since 2004, when both 4th-seeded LSU and 7th-seeded Minnesota advanced that far.

This game was supposed to be a rematch of a November game in the Virgin Islands, but the game was canceled when the 15-year-old brother of Sun Devils forward Aubree Johnson died of an enlarged heart, and players and coaches from both sides credited fate with setting up this matchup.

Rutgers used tough defense to take command, holding Arizona State to one field goal during the first 8 1/2 minutes of the 2nd half.

The Scarlet Knights gradually increased their lead with a basket here and a free throw there, all the while using occasionally relentless full-court pressure to turn the tables on the press-minded Sun Devils.

Prince's foul shot gave the Scarlet Knights their first double-figure lead of the game, 39-29, with 13:11 to play, and it never got much tighter after that.

Kirsten Thompson pulled Arizona State to 41-32 on a turnaround jumper moments later, but Rutgers reeled off three straight baskets: a 3-pointer by Prince, a turnaround jumper from Vaughn and a jump shot by Carson that made it 48-32 with 8:51 left and all but sealed it.

Briann January had 12 points in returning to the starting lineup after suffering a concussion for the Sun Devils (31-5), who advanced deeper into the tournament than any other team in school history. Before this season, Arizona State had never made it past the round of 16 in three tries.

The Sun Devils reverted to the poor shooting that plagued them in the first two rounds of the tournament. Arizona State, which shot just 36% in wins over UC Riverside and Louisville, was optimistic after making more than half of its shots against Bowling Green.

But those struggles returned when they could least be afforded, with Rutgers holding the Sun Devils to 32.7% shooting.

The Scarlet Knights asserted themselves late in the 1st half, scoring 11 straight points as part of a 17-4 run. Ajavon keyed the surge, scoring 5-straight points to start the spurt and giving Rutgers the lead for good with a 3-pointer from the left wing that made it 17-16 with 11:43 left.