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Rutgers extends longest winning streak in two years

CINCINNATI (AP) -- Three baskets in the final 20 minutes. How's that for defense?

Few play it as well at No. 5 Rutgers.

Kia Vaughn had season highs with 17 points and 21 rebounds, and Heather Zurich added a career-high 16 points on Tuesday night, leading the Scarlet Knights to a 71-41 victory over Cincinnati.

Relying on a versatile offense and a stifling defense, Rutgers (16-2, 6-0) has won its last 11 games, its best streak since it ran off 13 in a row in 2005-06. The Scarlet Knights are off to their best start overall in 17 years.

"We just wanted to keep the momentum on our side in the second half and keep them down," Vaughn said.

In the second half, they swatted them away. Cincinnati missed 21 of its first 22 shots and went only 3-of-28 from the field in the final 20 minutes.

"After halftime, they decided they weren't even going to let us look at the basket," Bearcats coach J. Kelley Hall said.

Rutgers finished with its season high in points and matched its season low with nine turnovers. Coach C. Vivian Stringer called it probably the most complete game of the season.

"We needed a game like this, and we need a lot more, to be honest with you, before we play the teams that we're going to play against," Stringer said.

This one came in a state that holds special memories.

Rutgers' breakthrough season ended last year ended in a trip to the Final Four in Cleveland. The Scarlet Knights lost to Tennessee 59-46 in the championship game, then returned virtually intact for another go at a title.

They took another step in that direction against Cincinnati (10-8, 1-5), which is at the other end of the state and the other end of the Big East hierarchy. The Bearcats were coming off an 86-49 loss to No. 1 Connecticut on Saturday that left them tied for second-to-last in league play.

Kahla Roudebush led a 3-point barrage that kept it close until Rutgers' defense clamped down in the second half, turning a 13-point lead into a 57-33 advantage. Roudebush, one of the league's top 3-point shooters, finished with 14 points. Cincinnati shot only 23 percent overall from the field.

Given their firsthand experience, the Bearcats perhaps have the best read on which is better, UConn or Rutgers.

"They're very different, very different styles of play," said forward Jill Stephens, who had seven points. "It's hard to say which one is better. They'll just have to play each other."

That will happen for the first time on Feb. 5, when Connecticut visits Rutgers. The rematch is March 3, the final game of the regular season.

"They're totally different," Hall said. "UConn is high-octane, explosive in transition. Rutgers pounds the ball hard. They don't make a lot of mistakes. It's going to be an interesting matchup. I really think Rutgers can defend them. I believe that. Can Rutgers dictate their type of game, or at least slow them down?"

The Bearcats aren't shy about shooting away from behind the arc, but couldn't do much more than that against one of the nation's top defenses. Rutgers ranks second nationally, allowing only 48.8 points per game.

Given their high expectations, the Scarlet Knights worry more about meeting their high standards. Following a 70-55 win over Louisville on Sunday, Stringer fumed about her team's effort and its 20 turnovers.

Two days later, there was less reason to fret.

The Scarlet Knights had only four turnovers while pulling ahead 41-28 in the first half. The Bearcats led for 46 seconds at the outset, hitting four of their first eight shots to gain a little confidence. It quickly got crushed.

Zurich, a junior forward, made a 12-foot jumper, a 3-pointer, a layup and another 3 during a 19-8 spurt that put Rutgers in control 25-13. The Bearcats never got closer than five points the rest of the half.

Then, the Scarlet Knights pulled away by holding Cincinnati to one field goal and four free throws in the first 14 minutes of the second half.

Last season, the Bearcats lost at Rutgers 85-43, a game in which all five Scarlet Knight starters reached double figures. This time, they had four score 10 or more.