3:15 PM ET, December 4, 2005
IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) -- While Rutgers coach Vivian Stringer dealt with plenty of off-court emotions and distractions, the Scarlet Knights took care of on-court business.Led by Cappie Pondexter's 22 points, No. 6 Rutgers held off Iowa 57-51 to win the Hawkeye Challenge on Sunday.The victory also capped an emotional weekend for Stringer, who coached against her former team for the first time since leaving Iowa City to take the Rutgers job. Stringer spent 12 years at Iowa, building the program into a national powerhouse, before leaving largely for personal reasons in 1995.She thanked her team Sunday for making the homecoming as easy as possible -- and grabbing two wins in the process."I looked at my kids, and I don't know what they were thinking, but it just looked like they were thinking 'Let's just go out and play and not put a burden' on me," Stringer said. "And that's a strange feeling. But I was very pleased that we were intense and that we did what we needed to do."Rutgers (5-0) led the entire game, thanks to a quick start by Pondexter, who was voted tournament MVP.Pondexter scored seven of Rutgers' first 11 points. Then she added seven more late in the game as the Hawkeyes were making a surge.After Iowa (4-3) pulled within 46-44 on a short jumper by Krista Vandeventer, Pondexter answered with a long 3-pointer.In the final minute with Rutgers leading by four, she worked time off the clock, all alone on the perimeter, before driving an Iowa defender into the paint and swishing a short jumper, putting Rutgers up six with 45 seconds left."I saw a lane to the basket and I know my team needed me at that moment and time," Pondexter said.Five times Iowa crept within two points in the second half, only to see the bigger and more physical Scarlet Knights respond and stretch their lead by controlling the boards.Led by Mariota Theodoris' 16 rebounds, Rutgers outrebounded Iowa 40-31, including 17-8 on the offensive end. The Scarlet Knights outscored Iowa 28-16 in the paint and blocked six shots.Rutgers shot 38 percent and just 53 percent from the free throw line.Cyrstal Smith led the Hawkeyes with 17 points. VandeVenter topped her season best with 15 points and had six rebounds. The Hawkeyes shot 38 percent from the floor and 79 percent from the free throw line."I really feel that the game was lost at the rebounding end," Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. "We gave up too many second-shot opportunities. You look at every other statistical category other than that, and we equaled them or were better."But it was clear from the outset that Stringer's return would overshadow anything that happened on the court.After being hired away from Cheney State in 1983, Stringer led the Hawkeyes to six Big Ten titles, nine straight NCAA appearances and a final four in 1993. Her 269 career victories are a school best.Fans cheered as she strolled out of the locker room and along the sidelines, shaking hands with friends and university officials, during warmups and pregame introductions.After taking Iowa to the 1993 Final Four and putting together the nation's top-ranked recruiting class the following year, Stringer decided it was time for a change. She cited personal reasons as the motivation, specifically the death of her husband, Bill, in 1992.Despite some reservations, Stringer said she was glad to get back."I needed to come back for a lot of reasons," Stringer said afterward. "I needed to step back in this arena one more time, for the university and my family."
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