3:15 PM ET, December 3, 2005
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 this year.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 City.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 Rutgers.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 matchup.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.