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Rutgers fends off late rally to beat Dartmouth

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) -- Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer publicly
ripped the NCAA Tournament selection committee for putting the
Scarlet Knights in a region that also includes North Carolina and
Tennessee.

Maybe she should have included No. 14 seed Dartmouth in that
group as well.

Rutgers scored the first 13 points of the game but never pulled
away after that and had to beat back a furious second-half rally by
the Big Green to escape with a 63-58 win Sunday in the first round
of the Cleveland Regional.

Cappie Pondexter scored 21 points and Matee Ajavon added 19 for
third-seeded Rutgers (26-4), who rebounded from a stunning loss in
the Big East Tournament two weeks ago. But it didn't come easily.

Dartmouth point guard Angie Soriaga scored 20 of her 23 points
in the second half and nearly pulled the Big Green (23-7) even in
the final seconds. But she slipped and fell into Rutgers' Essence
Carson and was called for an offensive foul with 13.7 seconds left
and Dartmouth trailing 61-58.

Pondexter sank two free throws with 12.9 seconds remaining to
provide the final margin.

"I'm glad we got that one out of the way," said a relieved
Stringer after Rutgers advanced to play either Texas Christian or
Texas A&M on Tuesday night. "I was greatly concerned about
Dartmouth. This kind of game is uncomfortable as a rule, because of
the style of play. Fortunately we're going to go on and see another
style of play."

The game was the first for Rutgers since it entered the Big East
tournament as the No. 1 seed and lost by 16 points in the second
round to a 12th-seeded West Virginia team that was without its
leading scorer.

It appeared at the outset Sunday that the Scarlet Knights were
ready to make Dartmouth pay for their early exit in the conference
tourney.

But after the initial burst to start the game, Rutgers struggled
to increase its lead and was frequently a step behind in the second
half as Soriaga weaved in and around them for open 3-pointers.

"That kid was getting open looks for that shot," Stringer
said. "As a team, we usually play extremely well getting out on
the 3."

Rutgers employed a full-court press from its opening basket and
the tactic paid off as Dartmouth went scoreless for the first 5
minutes as the Scarlet Knights built a 13-0 lead. Rutgers led 26-10
before Dartmouth rallied and trailed 32-25 at the half as Soriaga
hit a 3-pointer from just inside halfcourt at the buzzer.

"That was my first make of the game and it got me some
confidence," Soriaga said. "We were expecting to come here and
get the upset, and we stayed with them as they got tired toward the
end of the game."

Rutgers got the lead back to 14 (43-29) early in the second half
before Soriaga went to work and scored eight points in a 12-5 spurt
that brought Dartmouth to within six points at 50-44.

Dartmouth had two chances to tie the game in the final minute
after missed free throws by Ajavon and Pondexter, but Ashley Taylor
missed a 3-pointer and Carson drew the foul on Soriaga.

Rutgers had just two field goals in the final 5:38, but it was
just enough.

"We have to continue to get better," Pondexter said.

Stringer put the players through intense double practice
sessions after the West Virginia loss, and now must take another
look at where her No. 9-ranked team sits after a close call against
the No. 14 seed.

"I didn't see the kinds of things I should have seen," she
said. "We were just rusty, but I don't want to use our legs as an
excuse. Dartmouth played gritty, they played tough and they took it
to us."