PISCATAWAY, N.J. – Rutgers used a balanced scoring attack and a stifling defense en route to an 80-52 victory over Auburn in the second round of the 2009 NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship at the Louis Brown Athletic Center on Monday evening.
The seventh-seeded Scarlet Knights (21-12), playing in their road red uniforms as the lower seed, move into the Round of 16 for the fifth straight season. Rutgers will face No. 6 seed Purdue on Sunday in Oklahoma City. The Boilermakers (24-10) stunned No. 3 seed North Carolina, 85-70 in Chattanooga this evening.
Junior Epiphanny Prince scored a game-high 27 points, her third straight 20-point effort. (Tom Ciszek/NJSportsPhoto) PHOTO GALLERY
Senior forward Heather Zurich (Montvale, N.J.) and junior guard Brittany Ray (Bronx, N.Y.) each added 12 points. Redshirt freshman Khadijah Rushdan (Wilmington, Del.) just missed a double-double, tallying nine points and collecting 10 rebounds.
Auburn was paced by DeWanner Bonner, who scored 17 points and had nine rebounds.
Rutgers scored the game’s first nine points with Ray capping the run with a three-pointer from the left baseline with 17:32 on the clock, forcing the Tigers to call a timeout.
Auburn missed its first four shots of the game and finally got on the board just over three minutes into the game. The Scarlet Knights had an answer, ripping off a 13-2 run to pull ahead 22-4 with 11:54 to go in the half. Zurich accounted for six of the 10 points over the span, including converting the team’s first four-point play of the season. The senior did it on both ends of the floor as defensively she was assigned to Bonner, the SEC Player of the Year. Zurich face-guarded Bonner as she did not hit her first basket until the 7:56 mark of the first.
The Scarlet Knights went ahead by 20 (43-23) on a free throw by Rashidat Junaid (Chesilhurst, N.J.) with two minutes to go before the half, the largest deficit the Tigers had faced all year. AU scored the last five points of the stanza to cut the lead to five, 43-28 at intermission.
The Tigers had eight of the first nine points of the second half, closing to 46-36 on a jumper by Alli Smalley with 15:27 to play. On RU’s next possession, Ray drained a three from in front of the RU bench and Vaughn followed with a short jumper in the paint on the following one to take a 51-38 lead. Prince took over from that point, scoring 11 consecutive points. Rutgers led by no fewer than 21 points the rest of the way.
Rutgers shot 53.7 percent from the field, including a 59.1 percent effort in the second half. The Scarlet Knights held the Tigers to a season-worse 27.8 percent. RU improves to 11-5 all-time in second round NCAA games and 6-1 in games at the RAC. The contest was the final game in the Garden State for seniors Vaughn and Zurich.
*With its 80-52 victory over No. 2 seed Auburn in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, the Rutgers women’s basketball team has now advanced to the Sweet 16 in five consecutive seasons and 11 times in program history.
*Rutgers improves to 34-19 in the NCAA Tournament and 12-3 on its home court. The Scarlet Knights improve their mark in NCAA Tournament second round games to 11-5 and 6-1 at the RAC.
*RU’s 28-point margin of victory is its largest ever over a No. 1 or No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. It stands as the Scarlet Knights’ third largest margin of victory ever in an NCAA Tournament second round game. Rutgers topped No. 6 seed Arizona 90-47 in the second round of the 1999 NCAA Tournament and the Scarlet Knights upended TCU 82-48 in the second round of the 2006 Big Dance. The 28-point margin of victory is RU’s seventh largest margin in any round of the tournament.
*RU’s 80 points tied the most points that Auburn has given up this season. Ohio State also scored 80 points on Nov. 23, 2008.
*The most Auburn has trailed this season prior to tonight’s loss was 18 points vs. Vanderbilt on Feb. 19.
*Rutgers led tonight’s game wire-to-wire. It’s the first time all season that Auburn has not led in a game.
*For only the fourth time this season, four Scarlet Knights scored in double figures in the same game.
*The Scarlet Knights improve to 2-9 against ranked opponents this season.
*Junior Epiphanny Prince (Brooklyn, N.Y.) scored a game-high 27 points, her third straight 20-point effort. Her 27 points is the most ever for the guard in a NCAA Tournament game and is her third best scoring output of the season.
*Prince led all scorers in the Piscataway Regional with 53 points. DeWanna Bonner placed second with 43 points.
*Prince has scored in double figures in five of her last six NCAA Tournament games. The junior has 28 straight games this season in double-figures.
*Senior Kia Vaughn (Bronx, N.Y.) posted her fifth career NCAA Tournament double-double with 15 points and a game-high 11 rebounds. The center now has four double-doubles on the year and 26 in her career.
*Vaughn played in her 134th career game tonight, passing Essence Carson for the most games played in RU women’s basketball history.
*Senior Heather Zurich (Montvale, N.J.) netted 12 points on 5-of-7 shooting against Auburn. The 12 points are a career-high for Zurich in a NCAA Tournament game. Her prior best came in 2007 when Zurich hit for nine points on 4-of-6 shooting against East Carolina in the first round.
*Freshman Khadijah Rushdan (Wilmington, Del.) tied her season-high with 10 rebounds.
*Junior Brittany Ray (Bronx, N.Y.) tied her season-high with four three-point field goals.
Head Coach Vivian Stringer
Opening Statement- “I am obviously ecstatic. This is great. We talked about ultimately getting to our goal, we came real close. We’ve begun to play much better the past five or six games. I wondered if it was enough so that we would know what it felt like to play that way. That is championship-level basketball. With the help from the crowd, I absolutely want to thank all the fans who continued to believe in. There were those that continued to support and go on the road and we saw their faces and we appreciate it. We struggled a lot, but what’s most important is that it doesn’t matter where we come from, it’s where we are going. Ultimately, we had the chance to prove that we’re a much better team than we have proven ourselves to be this year. These three young ladies (Heather Zurich, Kia Vaughn, and Epiphanny Prince) and this entire team, but in particular our two seniors (Vaughn and Zurich) who had not known anything other than the Sweet 16, and to go out with anything less than that in their senior year would have been a disservice. They stepped up big time. What we saw here is that all three of these young ladies are real champions. Hopefully, they can carry us through the next few days and have the opportunity to play another game of basketball.”
(Thoughts on the tonight’s win) “I thought we played very well today. Auburn is a really fine team, and I don’t think they get any better as a coach than Nell (Fortner).
(On the team gelling as the season has gone on) “I thought that we were on fire. Most people know that his has been my most frustrating year of coaching, period, end of discussion. I have a headache when I think about it. It’s kind of interesting because I knew that we were getting better and I made a comment that we were getting better. We had lost so many games by three or four points, it seemed to be we had problems. We’ve began to come together, various elements of the team have showed up. For example Kia hadn’t scored, didn’t get one point or one rebound for six, seven, eight games; Epiphanny was carrying the load. Than Kia showed up and Brittany (Ray) and Piph (Epiphanny Prince) were on an island somewhere. I felt that Heather was the X-factor. She and Kia made up their minds that if they were going to go out, they were going to go out winners.
(On defending Auburn) “We knew (Alli) Smalley was a great shooter. She probably gets her shot off quicker than (Angie) Bjorklund at Tennessee, who ultimately broke our backs here at our place in January. We knew Bonner was SEC Player of the Year. We knew that (Whitney) Boddie had been penetrating the ball really deep and she has such vision, all she needs is people just to run and come under and get to the box. What we were trying to do was play them a triangle-and-two, but we were extending the triangle so that we began to absorb her (Boddie) so to speak. So if you noticed, not one of us really tried to stop her, we just tried to angle her. Every time you saw her get past Brittany Ray, Kia showed up. That was really key.
(On the impact of the home crowd) “There was no way that we were going to have our floor disrespected. There is something electric about the RAC. I don’t know what people see on television, but it can be pretty intimidating, and our girls felt good (playing at home).
Heather Zurich, Sr., Forward
(Thoughts on closing out her RAC career with a win) “I’m just happy to leave the RAC this way. It isn’t our last game, but it’s our last game here. So it was great to go out like this.
(On covering the SEC Player of the Year, DeWanna Bonner) “DeWanna Bonner is an unbelievable player. As Coach Stringer says, she’s so unique. I knew she was going to get her points. I was just trying to keep her close to me and my teammates did a great job helping. We just had to know where she was at all times and communicate. I think she played a great game but we just really tried to play a lot of help defense and deny her the ball as much as possible.
(On the emotions of seeing everything come together in a game like this) “It means so much. We are just happy to have another 40 minutes. Like I said before, to be able to go out at the RAC this way is great. I’m excited to go to Oklahoma and it’s a testament to this team to show how far we come. Like Coach Stringer said it’s not where you start, it’s where you finish. We’re not done yet, and we’re happy about that.
Kia Vaughn, Sr., Center
(Thoughts on closing out her RAC career with a win) “There is no better way to do it. Maybe if it was a national championship here (the RAC). I think we played great together and I’m going to miss the RAC. I still have a long way to go playing.
(On the difference between this team tonight and the one that squandered a 20-point halftime lead to Tennessee in January) “We’ve matured a lot. We understand that the second half has been our downfall throughout the whole season. We knew we had to come out with intensity in the second half and we kept telling ourselves the score was 0-0 at the half and we just had to score.
Epiphanny Prince, Jr., Guard
(On scoring in the lane against 6-foot-7 Auburn center KeKe Carrier) “Kia always tells me that it’s hard for the post players to block floaters and if you scoop the ball underhanded. That’s what I was trying to do every time I saw them.
(On shutting the door on Auburn in the second half) “It was very satisfying because we always lose our leads in the second half. We just kept being aggressive, kept attacking. It worked for us.”