Lady Pirates to Face
Perennial Power in Big Dance

by Brian North

The East Carolina women's basketball team finally found out who they will play in their first NCAA Tournament appearance in 25 years, and they didn't get any favors from the selection committee. The Lady Pirates were seeded 13th in the Greensboro Regional and will face 4th seed Rutgers Sunday, March 18th at 9:30 pm on ESPN2 or ESPNU. The game will be played at the Breslin Center in East Lansing, Michigan.

Rutgers is ranked 15th in the final Associated Press poll with a 22-8 overall record. The Scarlet Knights enter the NCAA Tournament having won three straight, including its first-ever BIG EAST Championship. The Lady Knights beat number one seed Connecticut. In addition, Rutgers has been triumphant in eight of its past nine games and 17 of its last 20 contests, so they come in as hot as ECU which has won 10 in a row.

Rutgers is no stranger to the post season. The Scarlet Knights will play in their 18th NCAA Tournament. This marks RU's fifth consecutive trip to the big dance, and it's their ninth appearance in the last 10 years, and that can be traced to the woman who has led the program at New Jersey's state university for the past 12 seasons.

Rutgers is coached by C. Vivian Stringer. The Hall of Famer is known as a master builder of basketball programs. She has catapulted three different programs from obscurity to national prominence during her 35 years as a head coach.

Stringer was the first coach in men's or women's basketball history to take three different schools to the Final Four: Cheyney University in 1982, The University of Iowa in 1993, and Rutgers in 2000, and she is third on the all time wins list with 772 career victories.

Rutgers is a young team with no seniors and five freshmen on its roster, but four players average double figure points. Junior Essence Carson (Paterson, N.J.), the back-to-back BIG EAST Defender of the Year, is averaging 12.9 points and 6.4 rebounds. Freshman guard Epiphanny Prince (Brooklyn, N.Y.) is averaging 12.9 points per contest and has knocked down a team-best 37 three-pointers. Sophomore center Kia Vaughn (Bronx, N.Y.), has a 12.8 points per game average and paces the team in rebounds (9.6) and blocks (2.6). Junior Matee Ajavon (Newark, N.J.), the BIG EAST Championship Most Valuable Player, is averaging 11.2 points per game.

ECU has three players averaging double figures led by senior Cherie Mills, 14.9 points per game, and followed closely by Jasmine Young (13.6) and LeCoya Terry (13.2). It will certainly be a tough game for a young ECU team (six sophomores and two freshmen), but a great learning experience for a program on the rise. Sharon Baldwin-Tenor is proving herself as one of the up and coming coaches in the business.

And if the Lady Pirates can pull off the upset, they will face the winner of the Michigan State/Delaware contest, but it's already been a post season to remember for a program starving for success.
Brian North