(7) Rutgers 71

(22-3, 14-0 Big East)

Marquette 50

(17-8, 8-6 Big East)

    8:00 PM ET, February 22, 2006

    1 2 T
    #7RUTG 33 3871
    MARQ 24 2650

    Scarlet Knights close in on 2nd straight Big East title

    MILWAUKEE (AP) -- With another Big East regular-season title in sight, Rutgers is playing its best.

    Cappie Pondexter had 20 points and Matee Ajavon added 18 to lead Rutgers (No. 8 ESPN/USA Today, No. 7 AP) to a 71-50 win over Marquette on Wednesday night.

    Rutgers, which has won 22 straight Big East games and 10 straight overall, never trailed after the opening minutes.

    "We definitely came ready to play tonight," Rutgers guard Essence Carson said. "We were really focused on both ends. We were really flowing. Everything was really together."

    The Scarlet Knights (22-3, 14-0) play Saturday at Pittsburgh, followed by a season-finale matchup at home against Connecticut on Feb. 27.

    Win out and the Scarlet Knights will have the title to themselves for the second year in a row -- and the second time in school history. Rutgers handed the Huskies their only conference loss of the season, 60-56, on Feb. 7.

    Marquette coach Terri Mitchell said the Scarlet Knights are Final Four material.

    "They are just so deep at every position," she said. "I have watched a lot of basketball. I have watched the Dukes and North Carolinas, LSU, you tell me. I have a pretty good argument."

    Marquette (17-8 overall, 8-6 Big East) never got closer than 11 points in the second half and trailed by as many as 26 points after a late 23-5 Rutgers run. The Golden Eagles travel to Connecticut Saturday.

    Rutgers outshot Marquette 51.9 percent to 34.5 percent and had just seven turnovers. Marquette made 4-of-17 three-pointers.

    "When you are playing the seventh-ranked team in the nation, you are going to have to do something special to win," Mitchell said. "At the end of the day, we didn't knock our shots down, and they did. And a 10-point game turns into a 20-point game, and you are fighting for your lives."

    Ajavon added nine assists.

    Pondexter scored 16 of her points in the second half. She entered the game averaging 21.1 points per game but had scored just 22 in her last two contests combined, including a season-low nine against Villanova Feb. 14.

    "All-American players go from four points in the first half to 20," Mitchell said.

    Carson added 12 points for Rutgers, which was happy for the experience against a tough Marquette zone defense.

    "This was a major step for us," Rutgers coach Vivian Stringer said. "Even if we would have won by 10 points I would have been happy because we attacked the zone the way we should."

    Christina Quaye led Marquette with 14 points.

    "We will never give up hope that one day we will be able to compete on a consistent basis with the best teams in the nation," Mitchell said.

    Rutgers took control early, jumping to a 15-5 lead behind seven points from Ajavon. The Scarlet Knights led 33-24 at halftime.

    Ajavon had 13 first-half points.

    Rutgers' last conference loss came on Feb. 3, 2005, 57-44 at Connecticut.

    Copyright by STATS LLC and The Associated Press


    2005-06 Season

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