GU, Rutgers square off with contrasting styles

Zags Renew Rivalry With UW

It was bad enough that Rutgers drew Gonzaga as its first opponent in the NCAA tournament and had to travel across the country to play the game on Gonzaga’s home floor.

It got even worse when coach C. Vivian Stringer and her Rutgers team got a look at Gonzaga’s McCarthey Athletic Center on Friday.

“It’s kind of blue in there, isn’t it?” Stringer said of the color scheme. “We’re going to think we are in UConn again.”

Sixth-seeded Rutgers (22-9) plays 11th-seeded Gonzaga (26-5) on Saturday afternoon. Third-seeded Miami (25-5) plays No. 14 seed Idaho State (24-7) in the second first-round game in Spokane later Saturday.

GU women get ready for Rutgers

Gonzaga’s up-tempo style and heavy reliance on passing also reminded Stringer of Big East rival Connecticut, which beat the Scarlet Knights twice this season.

“Look at how many games they win as a result of assists,” Stringer said of Gonzaga. “You know they are playing together well as a team.”

“It’s hard to stop a team’s offense when they know each other inside and out,” said guard April Sykes, who averages 13 points to lead Rutgers. “Watching Gonzaga, they are a team like that.”

The Zags also have a devoted fan base, as Connecticut does, that will pack the 6,000-seat area Saturday.

“We anticipate that everybody that can breathe is going to be packing it up and getting in there,” Stringer said. “We anticipate a loud, boisterous and enthusiastic crowd.”

Stringer said she had a feeling her team would be sent to Spokane, and expressed no displeasure at having to play on Gonzaga’s home floor.

“I looked at where the different sites were and considered which was the greatest distance from us,” Stringer joked.

But she liked getting her team away from the distractions of family and friends.

“I wasn’t disappointed,” said Stringer, who has an 11-2 record in NCAA opening games.

Gonzaga coach Kelly Graves said playing at home is not automatically good.

“There is added pressure when you play at home,” Graves said. “The expectations are they will play better in their home gym.”

That said, Graves believes the benefits of playing at home outweigh any disadvantages.

Rutgers is making its 10th consecutive appearance in the tournament, and 14th under Stringer. They were ranked as high as No. 7 this season before a five-game losing streak knocked them down.

Rutgers relies on a solid defense that limited Connecticut to 49 points even though they lost that Big East tournament game. They score an average of 60 points per game.

Gonzaga averaged 75 points per game this season, eighth best in the nation. They earned their first at-large bid to the tournament after losing to BYU in the West Coast Conference tournament title game.

The Bulldogs are led by Kayla Standish, who averages 15.8 points per game. Standish averaged 30 points in two NCAA tournament games at McCarthey last year, both Gonzaga victories.

Standish expects Rutgers to play a lot of pressure defense.

“We’ve got to stay composed with that,” Standish said. “We’ve got to take care of the ball.”

Graves said Rutgers presents several defensive schemes, including full-court and half-court traps.

“I’m not sure we can be ready for everything,” Graves said. “We’ve got to play with our heads on a swivel.”

Miami, which was upset by Wake Forest in the ACC tournament, is led by guard Shenise Johnson, who averages 16.8 points and 7.9 rebounds per game.

But senior guard Riquna Williams did not accompany the team to Spokane. Coach Katie Meier said Williams did not make the trip because of conduct detrimental to the team. Details were not immediately available. Williams averages 16 points per game and was an All-ACC first team selection this year.

Krystal Saunders will start in her place, Meier said.

“I am extremely confident in the Hurricane team that will take the floor in Spokane,” Meier said.

The Hurricanes average 76.9 points per game, sixth best in the nation. Miami is a No. 3 seed for the second consecutive year. They lost to Oklahoma in the second round last year.

Idaho State, winner of the Big Sky tournament, is making its third appearance in the NCAA tournament and first since 2007. They have not won a game in the tournament.

The Bengals have four players who average double figures, led by Chelsea Pickering at 12 points per game.

“They are incredibly balanced,” Meier said. “They have no selfish players.”

The Bengals also are relaxed, said coach Seton Sobolewski

“We let them be goofy and have a good time,” he said. “If I get really uptight with them, they are going to get tighter and not play as well.”

Idaho State didn’t find out about Miami’s decision on Williams until they arrived for practice, but the move won’t make much difference to his plans, Sobolewski said.

“We are a little disappointed,” he said. “We want to play people at their best.”