Stringer's dream come true

Updated: January 24, 2006, 12:01 AM ET
By Melanie Jackson | Special to ESPN.com

Editor's note: As the NCAA celebrates its 25th season of women's basketball, ESPN and ESPN.com count down the top 25 moments of NCAA Tournament history, beginning with C. Vivian Stringer becoming the first coach in men's and women's basketball to take three different programs to the Final Four.

Juggling the hardwoods with heartache was nothing new for C. Vivian Stringer.

Vivian Stringer
NET RESULT: Rutgers gave Stringer another one to cut down in 2000.

In 1981, just months before she would lead Cheyney to the first women's NCAA Final Four, Stringer learned her infant daughter, Janine, had contracted meningitis, which left the 14-month-old physically and mentally debilitated

Then, just four months after her husband died unexpectedly of a heart attack on Thanksgiving Day 1992, Stringer guided Iowa to the Final Four, becoming the first coach in men's or women's history to lead two schools to the national semifinals.

But in the 1999-2000 season, all of the hard luck happened on the court. And that was something Stringer wasn't accustomed to.

Sure, Stringer gained her 600th career coaching victory early that season, and the Scarlet Knights set a single-game attendance record in mid-February.

But by the time the NCAA Tournament rolled around, the Scarlet Knights already were saddled with seven losses, including two heartbreaking, single-digit overtime defeats, not to mention a stunning 13-point loss to NC State in a season opener on national television. Even more unusual were back-to-back losses in mid-January. And then, of course, after riding a wave of momentum into the Big East tournament final, Rutgers was routed by 20 points as top-ranked Connecticut beat the Scarlet Knights for the third time that season.

So no one quite knew what to expect when March Madness arrived. But Rutgers' relentless defense, which ranked fourth in the nation that season, came through, and two of the Scarlet Knights' first three opponents of the 2000 NCAA Tournament failed to score more than 45 points.

But then things really got tough. Not only was Rutgers playing nearly 3,000 miles away from home, in Portland, Ore., the Scarlet Knights also advanced to the Elite Eight against top-seeded Georgia, which was looking for its second straight trip to the Final Four and had averaged 80 points in its first three NCAA Tournament games.

Still, Georgia coach Andy Landers knew Rutgers' defense -- a confounding matchup zone that held 15 opponents to 50 or fewer points that season and limited the oppositions' leading scorer to below her average in 25 of 34 games -- could pose problems. "You find out in the first five minutes of the game," Landers said, "that none of your zone offenses are going to work because they are more man in their zone than they are zone."

A little more than 15 minutes into the game, Rutgers led 17-7 as the Lady Bulldogs struggled to find their shot. Georgia tied the score early in the second half, but Rutgers put the game out of reach with a 9-0 run for a 48-39 lead with 6:17 to play. Senior Shawnetta Stewart sandwiched the pivotal run with a 2-point basket and deadly 3-pointer, and finished with a game-high 22 points en route to West Region Most Outstanding Player honors. She was joined on the all-regional tournament team by Rutgers post Tammy Sutton-Brown, who had 14 points and six rebounds in the victory, and point guard Tasha Pointer, who had five points and seven assists.

Never before have I ever felt like this: To honestly feel in your heart and your mind that your dream has come true. For all the struggles that we've had as a team, just the ups and downs, us losing our confidence as a team midway through the season. People counted us out. We dug down deep and found it, our attitude and passion for basketball.
Coach C. Vivian Stringer on Rutgers' run to the 2000 Final Four

Rutgers, who got 10 key boards off the bench from Linda Miles, shot 43.5 percent (20 of 46) from the field and hit 3-for-9 from beyond the arc.

Georgia's terrific twins, Kelly and Coco Miller, each scored 15 points, but both shot just 3-for-9 from 3-point range. Coco Miller was 5 of 16 from the field and Kelly finished 6-for-12 before fouling out. The Lady Dogs were just 20-for-53 from the field (37.7 percent) and 6-for-20 from downtown (30 percent), with 15 turnovers.

Georgia entered the game looking for its second straight trip to the Final Four. Instead, Rutgers earned its first, as C. Vivian Stringer then became the first coach in men's and women's basketball to lead three different programs to the national semifinals. Rutgers' win solidified Stringer's reputation as a master builder basketball programs and also gave the Big East two teams at the Final Four.

Most important, according to Stringer, was her team's resiliency.

"Never before have I ever felt like this: To honestly feel in your heart and your mind that your dream has come true," she said afterward. "For all the struggles that we've had as a team, just the ups and downs, us losing our confidence as a team midway through the season. People counted us out. We dug down deep and found it, our attitude and passion for basketball."

Melanie Jackson | email

Women's Basketball
Melanie Jackson is ESPN.com's women's basketball editor.

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