Saturday, April 07, 2007

Dream Season Ends for Rutgers Women's Hoops Team

Rutgers' dream season came to a crashing thud at the hands of the powerful Tennessee Volunteers Tuesday night at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland. The team's improbable run this season had included a remarkable turnaround from a 2-4 start for the young team. And it was punctuated by key victories over archrival Connecticut in the championship game of the Big East tournament, and big wins in the NCAA tourney over powerhouses Duke and LSU. More remarkable still was that Rutgers had no seniors on its team.

But the Rutgers run came to an end at the hands of a bigger and more experienced Tennessee team, the most successful program in women's NCAA basketball. The Lady Vols captured their seventh title by beating Rutgers at its own game, with suffocating defense. UT's bigger lineup also enabled them to amass a huge edge in offensive rebounds, leading to Tennessee having many more shot opportunities that their rivals from New Jersey.

Spirits were high at a pre-game party for the Rutgers faithful, sponsored by the alumni association and held at a Jacobs Field dining room adjacent to the Arena. The Rutgers band and cheerleaders were there, as were the university president, the men's football and basketball coaches, and many fans and alums from the Rutgers community.

Although women's basketball coach C. Vivian Stringer has set a record by being the only basketball coach (men's or women's) to take three different teams to the NCAA Final Four (this was the second time with Rutgers), she was still looking to win her first NCAA title. Among those attending the Rutgers pre-game party were several women who had played for Stringer at the first team she took to the Final Four, Pennsylvania's Cheyney State, whom she took to the pinnacle of college basketball in 1982.

Despite such historical meanings a Rutgers title would have, Stringer was not to get her title this night in Cleveland. But the good news is that she has a young team of talented players who will all be back next year. Rutgers fans are hoping to have another pre-game party before the championship match next year in Tampa, where the 2008 women's Final Four will be taking place.

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