Shoe's on other foot as Rutgers' defense gears for Tennessee

Knights' zone will test 6-time champ Lady Vols

Women's NCAA Tournament

March 31, 2000|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

PHILADELPHIA -- The roles have become reversed for tonight's first national semifinal in the NCAA women's Final Four, with an opponent of No. 2 Tennessee, the six-time national champion, setting the agenda for a change.

It appears that to get to Sunday night's national-championship game, the Lady Vols (32-3) will have to do some adjusting, specifically to the 2-3 matchup zone employed by No. 8 Rutgers, tonight's opponent.

It's not that the Scarlet Knights (26-7) do anything Tennessee hasn't seen before. Zone defenses are a staple of postseason basketball, and the Lady Vols used one Monday night to beat Texas Tech in the Mideast Region final.

The difference is that the Rutgers zone is a gambling, go-for-broke defense that when played well forces teams out of their comfort area and induces them to take the first open shot they see, usually a bad one.

"It's very impressive in watching them, and we've watched a lot of tape on them," said Tennessee coach Pat Summitt. "They certainly have a system and they believe in it and they're all committed to it. And we have to have obviously a plan of attack on the offense and we have to all be committee to it, as well."

How does it work? Not even the Rutgers players seem to have a handle.

"Why is this defense so tough? I don't know," said Rutgers point guard Tasha Pointer, a 5-foot-6 junior. "I don't know because this is the only defense I've been taught since I came to college. I think that if I were in someone else's shoes, I guess [I would be frustrated] because you can't get a shot off."

Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer, making her third Final Four trip with as many schools, has a handle on the defense she learned from her mentor, Temple men's coach John Chaney, when the two coached at Cheyney, in the Philadelphia suburbs in the 1970s and early 1980s.

"What we're trying to do is force a direction. And we'll play angles, and we understand where you want to go. We'll take you away from it, shut everything else off to force skips that you might not want to get and we can anticipate those," said Stringer.

Sound complicated? Probably, though the Lady Vols have been given a pretty specific mandate.

"They like to use their hands really well and they are really quick and active, which makes them effective as far as laying out and being able to deflect balls," said Tennessee forward Tamika Catchings. "We can't quick-shoot the ball."

The Rutgers defense places a premium on efficient point-guard play, which will place Tennessee freshman Kara Lawson, who took over the quarterback role at midseason, in the hot seat.

Lawson, who has been battling a bad back, and fellow freshman April McDivitt have played well in spurts, but will have to have conquer the Rutgers' zone to keep the Lady Vols' title push rolling.

"I really thought a lot of people doubted our ability to be here because we had to rely on the two of them," said Summitt.

Catchings, who yesterday added the Associated Press' Player of the Year award to her growing list of postseason honors, pronounced herself fit after turning her ankle in Monday's 57-44 win over Texas Tech.

"She came back strong and thank God she came back in, but at times like that, it's a team effort and we have to rally around situations like that," said Tennessee guard Kristen Clement.

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