FREEPORT, Bahamas (AP) -- Rutgers coach Vivian Stringer wasn't
happy with her team's opening game -- and she made sure the Scarlet
Knights knew about it.
No. 6 Rutgers got 20 points from Cappie Pondexter to finally
kick off its season with a 66-36 win over North Florida in the
Junkanoo Jam on Friday night.
And while the final score doesn't show it, the Scarlet Knights
didn't look anything like the club that won the Big East Conference
regular-season crown last season.
In a longer than usual postgame talk, Stringer demanded an
intensity level she didn't see against the Lady Ospreys (1-2).
"I don't have any question about it, it will be more intense,"
Stringer said. "I wasn't happy at all the way we came out. I think
we're kidding ourselves if we do that again."
Pondexter knew the team would get an earful from their coach at
the end of this one.
"Coach Stringer is always going to be coach Stringer. She's a
very critical person. She sees things everybody else doesn't see,"
said Pondexter, a fifth-year senior. "That's what makes her a
Maybe it was the warm, tropical air or the sparsely filled gym
at St. Georges High. Clearly, something didn't agree with the
Scarlet Knights, who were only up 42-31 with 7 minutes left against
a school making its Division I debut this season.
Rutgers finally wore down North Florida in the final 5 minutes.
The Scarlet Knights take on North Carolina State, an 81-59
winner over Iowa State, for the championship of the tournament's
Freeport Division on Saturday. North Florida faces the Cyclones for
George Washington and No. 18 Texas will play for the
tournament's Lucaya Division title. George Washington topped Purdue
49-47, while Texas beat South Carolina 59-55. The Boilermakers and
Gamecocks play for third place.
Rutgers could not shake the Lady Ospreys from the start.
When Alana Mountfield made an open jumper for North Florida less
than 2 minutes into the game, Stringer sprung up to call time.
Pondexter kept the focus on the court, telling teammates before
one inbounds, "Let's go, step it up everybody."
It took a while, though, for the message to sink in.
Ahead 17-14 with 7 minutes left in the half, Pondexter hit
consecutive 3-pointers to extend the lead. After the second one,
Pondexter bounced on the court with delight. About a minute later,
Pondexter showed off she can drive to the basket as well, using a
stutter-step to flash between two defenders for the score to put
Rutgers ahead 25-14.
When it looked like the rout might be on, though, again the
Scarlet Knights stalled. At one point, Stringer subbed her whole
lineup, so disgusted was she with her team's passive play.
"It's like we went to the store and forgot what kind of sweater
to buy," Stringer said.
She said her team's success has to start with defensive
But the Scarlet Knights were outscored 16-12 by North Florida
over the first 12 minutes of the half with the Lady Osprey fans
loudly stomping the metal bleachers with each basket.
Jennifer Guldager's short jumper drew North Florida to 42-31
with 8:00 to go. Once again, it was Pondexter who got her team back
on the right track.
Pondexter deflected a pass attempt from Karli Knudsen, stole the
ball, drove to the basket and got fouled. She finished the
three-point play and, finally, the expected blowout was on.
"I think they probably didn't know what to expect and with our
underdog mentality, our kids played pretty hard," said North
Florida coach Mary Tappmeyer. "If Cappie doesn't go six for seven
in the first half, it's a pretty close game."
Matee Ajavon added 19 points for Rutgers.
Anna Haberlein led North Florida with 10 points.
The Lady Ospreys couldn't get past Rutgers' defense. They had
more turnovers than field goals (22 to 15) and shot just 27 percent
(15 of 55).
Pondexter is certain the Scarlet Knights will turn things up in
their next game.
"Any team you see in the first game, it's definitely out of
sync," Pondexter said. "We'll be fine, definitely much better
than we were today tomorrow."