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ND WOMEN’S BASKETBALL: Rutgers routs Irish squad

Ken Fowler | Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Matee Ajavon just made a name for herself.

The Rutgers sophomore guard led the No. 9 Scarlet Knights Tuesday in a 69-43 romp of the No. 21 Irish in the Rutgers Athletic Center before a dazzled home crowd.

Ajavon had a season-high 28 points on 11-of-18 shooting from the floor, including 5-of-7 from three-point range, to go along with her four assists and three steals.

“She’s a tremendous talent,” Irish associate head coach Coquese Washington said. “When she’s hitting her outside shot the way she did tonight, it sets up everything else for her. She’ll get some points driving and score some points in transition.”

In that regard, Ajavon was like the rest of her teammates, continually capitalizing on Notre Dame’s 22 turnovers. Utilizing a full-court press much of the game, Rutgers scored 35 points off turnovers and 16 on the fast break. The Irish did not have a single transition basket.

“They were able to take our turnovers and score in transition,” Washington said. “Our turnovers against their press were a big factor.”

Notre Dame’s problems were not limited to the turnover count. The Irish shot a putrid 32 percent (14-of-44) from the field and had just six assists.

Notre Dame’s problems were evident from the start.

Rutgers took a 20-1 lead midway through the first half, but a methodical Irish comeback cut the deficit to 28-24 with 16:07 remaining in the game when Breona Gray nailed her second straight three-pointer of the second half.

“When Breona hit that shot, we thought we were on a roll,” Washington said. “But we went on another lull offensively and hurt ourselves with turnovers, and they capitalized on that.”

Capitalize did they ever.

Ajavon led the Scarlet Knights’ response to the Irish comeback, assisting on consecutive baskets by Michelle Campbell and Essence Carson. The sophomore then nailed a three-pointer with 14:16 remaining to put the Rutgers advantage back into double digits at 35-24.

After Tulyah Gaines hit a jumper for the Irish at the shot-clock buzzer to cut the lead to nine, Ajavon responded by nailing another three and then making a steal and scoring on the ensuing fast-break – five points in 22 seconds.

By the time the game stopped for the 12-minute television timeout, less than five minutes after Notre Dame cut the lead to four, Rutgers led 48-26 and did not look back.

The Scarlet Knights stayed in a full-court press and forced even more Irish turnovers. Senior standout Cappie Pondexter led the charge this time, scoring six points in the next four minutes, and Rutgers took a 60-30 lead to cap off a devastating 32-6 run by the Knights.

“I thought we did a pretty decent job on Cappie in the first half,” Washington said. “When you have players who can create their own shot and a team so rounded offensively, it’s tough to keep them down for 40 minutes, as we saw tonight.”

The game looked like it would get out of hand early, as the Scarlet Knights racked up a 20-1 lead 10 minutes into the game. Rutgers scored 20 straight points after Crystal Erwin hit one-of-two free throws for the Irish in the opening seconds of the contest.

“Early on in the game, we had a few more turnovers than we would have liked,” Washington said. “Those turnovers gave them a few more [easy] opportunities.”

It was the sensational sophomore guard who led the early Rutgers charge, tallying 14 points and two steals in the first half alone. Ajavon, who entered the game averaging 11 points per game, connected on 5-of-10 shots from the field, including 3-of-5 from behind the line, in the opening 20 minutes.

The Irish broke Rutgers’ stranglehold and scored the next 13 points, starting when Duffy hit a long three at the shot-clock buzzer to register Notre Dame’s first field goal of the night. But the Irish trailed 26-18 at halftime.

Gray opened the scoring in the second half with a bucket from downtown to cut Rutger’s lead to 26-21. She hit another three-pointer two minutes later, and the Rutgers lead was just four.

From there, the Scarlet Knights took over.

Notes:

u Irish freshman Chandrica Smith nearly registered the first double-double of her career, tallying nine points and 10 rebounds in 24 minutes of action. Smith was three-of-seven from the field and three-of-five from the line.

“We had some bright spots,” Washington said. “Smith stepped in and had a great game, almost had a double-double. She played very aggressively.”

u Duffy was the only Irish player to reach double figures, scoring 10 points on two-of-eight shooting from the floor. Each of her field goals was a three-pointer, and she made all four of her attempts from the free-throw line.

“They were running two or three people at her,” Washington said. “They put a few defenders on her to make it tough for her to get her shots off. I thought she handled it pretty well. The thing is, we just needed other people to kind of step up and take control, in terms of trying to get us going offensively.”

Duffy had three assists and two rebounds.