7:30 PM ET, February 27, 2006
PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) -- For years, Rutgers measured itself by how it fared against Connecticut and almost always came up short.After winning a second straight Big East title, the Scarlet Knights may have finally closed the gap for good.Cappie Pondexter scored 26 points as Rutgers (No. 8 ESPN/USA Today, No. 6 AP) completed a regular-season sweep of UConn (No. 6 ESPN/USA Today, No. 7 AP) and clinched the regular-season conference crown with a 48-42 win Monday night.The Scarlet Knights (24-3, 16-0) finished undefeated in the Big East for the first time in the 11 years they've been a member and earned the top seed in the conference tournament, which begins Saturday in Hartford, Conn.Rutgers improved to 4-18 against UConn, but the Scarlet Knights have won three of the last four meetings and became the first team to sweep a regular-season series from the Huskies since Miami in 1992."This is definitely something monumental for the Rutgers program, something for future teams to build on," forward Mariota Theodoris said.Rutgers held the Huskies (26-4, 14-2) to five field goals and 12 points in the second half and one point in the final 11:38. The 42 points were the fewest scored by UConn since Dec. 29, 1992, when the Huskies lost 57-37 to Vanderbilt, a span of 480 games.Renee Montgomery led UConn with 14 points.Rutgers won despite shooting 15-for-57 (26 percent) and 2-for-11 from 3-point range and falling behind 26-8 in the first half, their biggest deficit of the season. They scored 22 points -- nearly half their total -- off Connecticut turnovers, a stat UConn coach Geno Auriemma called "incredible.""You can't just run plays, you have to make plays against a good team," he said. "Cappie did, and we didn't."Rutgers wiped out most of a big deficit with a suffocating press that held UConn to two field goals in the final seven minutes of the first half. Pondexter came alive during that stretch, scoring 13 points in the half's final 5:51."The press definitely got us going," said Pondexter. "That's our game: we love to attack, we love to run, we love to press."Rutgers didn't let up on the defensive pressure in the second half. Pondexter gave the Scarlet Knights their first lead since 3-2 with a 3-pointer to make it 42-41 with 6:35 left, and the teams combined to score only seven points after that.Pondexter made one of two free throws with 1:03 left to give Rutgers a 43-42 lead, and Ann Strother missed a jumper at the other end. Kia Vaughn followed with two free throws for Rutgers with 44 seconds left. Pondexter added another free throw with 16 seconds remaining.The Scarlet Knights trailed by as many as 18 points in the first half but cut the deficit to five by halftime thanks to Pondexter.Despite her team's recent successes against the Huskies, Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer wasn't ready to anoint her team the new beast of the Big East.After the Scarlet Knights won last year's regular-season Big East title, the Huskies got their revenge in the conference tournament by beating Rutgers in the championship game."We're not running around claiming we're this-and-that," she said. "(UConn's) a great team. They're still the reigning champs. I just hope I'm still coaching when the wins and losses start to even up against them."
Copyright by STATS LLC and The Associated Press
Team Stat Comparison
|FG Made-Attempted||17-41 (.415)||15-56 (.268)|
|3P Made-Attempted||5-18 (.278)||2-12 (.167)|
|FT Made-Attempted||3-8 (.375)||16-20 (.800)|
|Fouls (Tech/Flagrant)||21 (0/0)||13 (0/0)|