Rutgers' first opponent is inclement weather

C. Vivian Stringer's squad had to wait out last night's storm before meeting East Carolina.

Posted: March 17, 2007

Rutgers was ready to board a plane yesterday and finally get under way to the Scarlet Knights' destination site in the opening round of the NCAA women's basketball tournament.

But some days there are tougher obstacles to conquer than the storied Connecticut team that Rutgers subdued to win the Scarlet Knights' first Big East title almost two weeks ago in Hartford.

Because of the inclement weather that struck the Northeast and grounded most airline flights, Rutgers was forced to return to campus and wait until this morning to head for East Lansing, Mich.

The Scarlet Knights (22-8), who have been given the fourth seed in the Greensboro Regional, will meet No. 13 East Carolina (19-13) tomorrow night at approximately 9:30.

The Pirates were a surprise winner of Conference USA's tournament to earn an automatic bid. ECU's last trip to the Big Dance was in the very first one, 26 years ago.

Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer does not like to look ahead, but it was startling enough to discover her fourth-seeded team could potentially face No. 5 Michigan State (23-8) on the Spartans' floor.

The Scarlet Knights beat Michigan State, 63-57, in Piscataway on Jan. 28, a win that helped Rutgers overcome some early-season struggles and return to the Associated Press rankings.

Incidentally, unlike teams on the Atlantic Seaboard with weather concerns, Michigan State (23-8) has had distractions of a different sort.

The husband of Spartans coach Joanne P. McCallie was arrested on March 7 when the couple arrived in Sarasota, Fla., at the airport for a brief vacation.

John Douglas McCallie, 56, is an economics professor at Michigan State who was alleged to have had an altercation with an airport police officer in a dispute over lost luggage.

On Friday, the student newspaper at Michigan state reported McCallie's husband told a class he was teaching that several schools with coaching openings, including LSU, are pursuing his highly successful wife.

Joanne McCallie led the Spartans to the NCAA title game in 2005, when Michigan State lost to Baylor.

Michigan State will meet No. 12 Delaware (26-5), which received its first at-large bid and is making its second NCAA appearance since winning the America East title in 2001.

The Blue Hens, who are one of three Colonial Athletic Association schools in the field, are one of several teams capable of upsets in the first round.

If Rutgers advances out of the sub-regional, the Scarlet Knights would potentially meet Duke, the overall No. 1 team in the NCAA tournament.

The Scarlet Knights have painful meetings of their last matchup with the Blue Devils, in January, when Duke visited the Rutgers campus and delivered an 85-45 thrashing for the team's worst defeat since Stringer took over the program in the summer of 1995.

However, this is a squad not to be taken lightly.

Connecticut, the No. 1 seed in the Fresno Regional, recently learned that in the Big East title game.

Only a week before Rutgers' big upset, the Huskies beat the Scarlet Knights, 70-44, in Piscataway. Connecticut also won an earlier meeting, 60-50, in Storrs.

Rutgers has no seniors, and whatever the Scarlet Knights achieve or don't in the games ahead, this is a program that is expected to be a title contender next season.

The young Scarlet Knights took a while to learn Stringer's rigid defensive schemes, particularly, her "55" press, which has suffocated many prominent opponents.

But once educated, Stringer's bunch has won 17 of its last 20 games.

The roster is loaded with high school all-Americans such as freshman Epipphany Prince, a 5-foot-9 guard from Brooklyn who scored 100 points in a high school game a year ago.

Rashidat Junaid, a 6-4 center from Camden Catholic, was The Inquirer's South Jersey high school player of the year last season.

Matee Ajavon, the most outstanding player of the Big East tournament, has returned to form as a 5-8 junior guard after missing the front part of the season while recovering from surgery on a stress facture of her left leg.

At the Big East tournament, Stringer credited freshman 6-1 forward Mia McCurdy as having become an additional key for Rutgers' defense.

Junior forward Essence Carson is already drawing attention by WNBA scouts, as is 6-4 sophomore Kia Vaughn.

Contact staff writer Mel Greenberg at 215-854-5725


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