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
"This is definitely something monumental for the Rutgers
program, something for future teams to build on," forward Mariota
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
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."