7:00 PM ET, January 11, 2006
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) -- Cappie Pondexter had the fifth-highest scoring performance in Rutgers history and the 10th-ranked Scarlet Knights needed every point.Pondexter scored a career-high 40 points, including a clutch jumper with 8 seconds left, and Rutgers (No. 9 ESPN/USA Today, No. 10 AP) rallied to beat South Florida 66-65 on Wednesday night."I just felt unstoppable," Pondexter said.Pondexter's jumper gave the Scarlet Knights a 66-64 lead. South Florida's Shantia Grace converted one of two free throws in the final seconds and the Bulls got the ball back after Pondexter missed a free throw, but Jessica Dickson missed a desperation heave at the buzzer."It definitely hurts in the locker room," South Florida coach Jose Fernandez said. "We're an NCAA (tournament) team. We've just got to win these games. These are the type of games that you need to win to put you over the top."Rutgers (11-2, 3-0 Big East) has won 11 straight conference games dating back to Feb. 6, 2005.Dickson had a career-high 37 points for South Florida (11-5, 1-2), which, in its last 11 games, has gone 1-4 against teams ranked in the Top 25.After four lead changes over a five-minute stretch, South Florida pulled even at 62 on ChiChi Okpaleke's free throw with 2 minutes remaining. After Dickson and Pondexter exchanged baskets, Okpaleke missed two free throws with 17 seconds to play.Rutgers, which trailed by 16 in the first half, took a 55-54 lead on Courtney Locke's 3 with 6:40 to go."It shows a lot about our character," Pondexter said. "The fact that we were able to fight and not give up. We could have easily folded."The Scarlet Knights had tied it at 52 with 8½ minutes remaining after a 15-3 run. Pondexter, the conference's second-leading scorer, started the stretch with a three-point play after Dickson hit a 3 to put South Florida ahead 49-37 with 14 minutes left."I knew it was going to be a game where her and I would be going back and forth," Dickson said. "She just made the big shots in the end. She's a great player."Dickson, who leads the nation in scoring, had 18 points in the first half, helping the Bulls take a 32-24 halftime lead."It's fun, but it's not really about that," Pondexter said of the matchup with Dickson. "We're fighting to win a Big East title."It the first 40-point game for a Rutgers player since Alicia Sheeler had 42 at Temple on Feb. 1, 1995.