Dec. 29, 2004
By TOM CANAVAN
AP Sports Writer
PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) - The return of senior Cappie Pondexter to the Rutgers' lineup was upstaged by two freshman who helped the Scarlet Knights hand Pat Summitt one of her worst losses at Tennessee.
Matee Ajavon scored 20 points and fellow freshman Essence Carson added 14 points and 13 rebounds as No. 24 Rutgers held eighth-ranked Tennessee to 16 first-half points in a 65-51 victory Wednesday.
"The freshmen grew up a lot and we as a team grew up a lot," Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer said after besting Summitt in the game that pitted two of the four women coaches with 700 career wins. "We learned how to win."
Rutgers (7-2) not only won, it embarrassed Tennessee (8-3) on a day Pondexter played for the first time this season. Pondexter, Rutgers' leading scorer the past two seasons, had one point in 15 minutes. She missed the first eight games for reasons that have not been disclosed.
She enjoyed played with Ajavon and Carson.
"I think tonight they showed they are one of the best classes in the country," said Pondexter, who missed all five of her shots.
The Scarlet Knights will have a chance to build off this win. They are at No. 4 Texas on Sunday and return here Wednesday to play top-ranked LSU.
The 51 points tied for the second-fewest scored by Tennessee in a game, matching totals against Georgia in 2000 and Long Beach State in 1983. The Lady Vols' record low is 46 against Louisiana Tech in 1982.
The first-half total was two points shy of the Lady Vols' record low set against Virginia in 1996.
"We weren't good in any aspect of our game tonight," said Summitt, whose freshman recruiting class was considered the best in the country this season although Candace Parker - the best of the group - is just returning from a knee injury.
Facing a 17-point halftime deficit, a frustrated Summitt admitted to breaking her clipboard.
"I didn't say a lot," Summitt said. "I didn't throw anything. That's not my style. I did think about it though."
Shyra Ely had 13 points and Nikki Anosike 12 for Tennessee, which had won four games in a row. This one was all but over by halftime, with Rutgers ahead 33-16 at the break.
The 17-point halftime deficit tied for the third-highest in Tennessee history. It was exceeded only by the 19-point deficits against Mississippi in 1996 and Southern California in 1986.
Rutgers led by as many as 23 points in the second half and the 14-point final margin was the closest Tennessee got in roughly the final 24 minutes.
The Lady Vols simply had no answers for Rutgers' defenses, particularly in the first half. They hit made just four of 20 shots and had 13 turnovers. Tennessee even struggled from the foul line, making eight of 14.
Tennessee, which has struggled with its offense all season, finished 15 of 54 for 27.8 percent. The Lady Vols made just one of nine 3-point attempts.
"I think they were surprised how hard we came out from the beginning," said Rutgers center Michelle Campbell, who added 13 points. "I think it kind of stunned them. Thy weren't expecting us to be so close on defense, right in their face on every shot."
The only thing that kept the game from being a blowout was that Rutgers struggled with its shooting. The Lady Knights made 24 of 61 for 39.3 percent.
Tennessee opened a 6-2 lead in the opening three-plus minutes, then scored only six points in the next 16 to fall behind 31-12.
Ajavon matched Tennessee's total in that span. Carson added eight points in the 29-6 surge during which Summitt substituted freely looking for the right combination. She never found one.