IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) -- Crystal Smith scored 26 points to lead
Iowa to a 79-57 victory over Vermont Saturday in the Hawkeye
Challenge, setting up a sentimental title game against No. 6
Rutgers on Sunday.
The Hawkeye victory gives tournament organizers, university
officials and Hawkeye fans across the state the matchup they had
hoped for when Rutgers was invited to the annual tournament earlier
For the first time since leaving Iowa in 1995, Rutgers coach
Vivian Stringer will coach against the Hawkeyes, a program she
turned into a national powerhouse during her 12-year tenure in Iowa
After taking the Iowa job in 1983, Stringer won a school-best
269 games, guided the Hawkeyes to six Big Ten titles and nine
straight NCAA appearances before leaving to take the job at
The Scarlet Knights (4-0) advanced to the championship game by
beating San Jose State 76-64, behind 26 points from all-American
guard Cappie Pondexter.
But it was Smith who ensured Iowa (4-2) a spot in the marquee
Five minutes into the second half, a fast-break layup by
Vermont's Alexis Castro made the score 44-40, the closest margin
since the game's opening minutes.
Then Smith took charge, scoring 10 points over the next nine
minutes in a 20-10 Iowa run.
"Vermont had a couple of quick baskets to start the half and
made the game a lot closer," said Iowa coach Lisa Bluder, who won
her 100th game at Iowa. "But then I thought we refocused and came
back pretty well after that."
A 3-pointer by Wendy Ausdemore put Iowa up 47-40 at the 13:44
mark, and Smith's 3-pointer with 7:56 left stretched the lead to 15
points and put the game out of reach. Smith, last week's Big Ten
Player of the Week, also had three assists and six steals.
Stacy Schlapkohl added 12 points and seven rebounds for Iowa.
The Hawkeyes also shot 46 percent and won praise from coach Lisa
Bluder, who stressed all week the need to focus first on Vermont.
"You worry about overlooking Vermont ... (you're) so anxious
about the Rutgers matchup," Bluder said. "But I thought our team
did a really good job of focusing."
Ashleigh Cuncic led the Catamounts (2-4) with 17 points. Sy
Janousek added 11 points, but Vermont shot just 32 percent and was
outscored in the paint 24-8.