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Vols get 2nd shot at Rutgers
The Scarlet Knights won by 14 in December, but Tennessee is now a very different team.
Published March 29, 2005
PHILADELPHIA - The last time Tennessee and Rutgers met, each had an incomplete cast.
When the teams collide tonight at the Liacouras Center in the Philadelphia Region final, each will rely on a star unable to make headlines in the first encounter.
The winner advances to the Final Four, to be played Sunday and April 5 in Indianapolis. Tonight's tipoff is scheduled for 9.
On Dec. 29, when Rutgers defeated Tennessee 65-51 in Piscataway, N.J., the Scarlet Knights made do without guard Cappie Pondexter, who was not at full strength.
Pondexter, the team's leading scorer, was still rounding into shape after sitting out the early season for personal reasons. She had just one point in that game in 15 minutes, shooting 0-for-5 from the field.
The Vols were without defensive standout Loree Moore, who sat out six games after a tonsillectomy.
Act II provides more intrigue and drama.
Tennessee players said they had no problem saying which team would enjoy the bigger boost.
"We definitely have the bigger jolt with Loree," forward Shyra Ely said. "That will create a lot of trouble for them. ... I think her defense will disrupt them."
Just ask Texas Tech's Erin Grant.
Moore, a 5-foot-9 senior, threw the steady guard off-balance in the region semifinal Sunday. Moore flustered Grant into six turnovers while limiting her to five assists.
In Tennessee's 75-59 win, Moore also contributed eight rebounds, nine points and three steals. She has averaged 2.3 steals and 8.3 points through the postseason.
Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer said she noticed Moore's absence in the teams' regular-season meeting.
"Loree Moore is a phenomenal point guard," Stringer said. "Obviously, the team was disoriented."
In Pondexter, the Knights have a player who can make teams dizzy.
The speedy senior is a headache to defend off the dribble; she is averaging 13.9 points. Pondexter had 24 Sunday in a 64-58 semifinal win over Ohio State.
Tennessee coach Pat Summitt said Rutgers is one of the most athletic teams she has seen all season. It will take big defensive stoppers such as Moore and freshman Alexis Hornbuckle to slow Pondexter and the Knights.
While Moore takes care of the Vols defense, Ely - the team's only other starting senior - takes care of the offense.
Ely played shooting guard this season, but Summitt moved her to power forward.
Ely dominated the paint against Texas Tech, scoring 23 points.
Rutgers is known for its intense defense, which is a good thing, because beating Tennessee twice in a season is no easy task.
Stringer said defeating Tennessee was Rutgers' defining regular-season moment.