This marks Rutgers’ 14th invitation to the NCAA Tournament, and its first since 2001. Fifth-seeded Georgia and 12th-seeded Charlotte will face-off in the other first-round game, and the winners of the two first-round games will advance to the second round, which will be conducted Monday, March 24, in Athens.
Rutgers is 20-7 overall following a 77-74 loss to Miami (18-11, 8-8 BIG EAST) in the quarterfinals of the BIG EAST Tournament March 9. The Scarlet Knights posted a 13-3 mark during the BIG EAST regular season to finish second. Rutgers also was ranked 23rd by both the Associated Press and USA Today/ESPN/WBCA last week (March 11). Sophomore 5-9 guard Cappie Pondexter (Chicago, IL), the BIG EAST Rookie of the Year as well as a member of the All-BIG EAST First Team, leads the Scarlet Knights with 18.4 points and 4.8 assists per contest, and is tied for second on the team in rebounding (4.9 rpg). Senior 5-9 guard Mauri Horton (Minneapolis, MN) is second in scoring (11.9 ppg), adding 4.6 rebounds and 1.8 steals per game. Sophomore 5-11 guard Chelsea Newton (Monroe, LA) is contributing 10.4 points, 4.9 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.9 steals per game. Junior Shalicia Hurns (Indianapolis, IN) is adding a team-best 6.9 rebounds per game.
The Lady Toppers own a 21-8 record, including a 12-2 mark in the Sun Belt Conference. Leading Western Kentucky is Leslie Logsdon, a junior 5-10 forward who is averaging 17.1 points and 4.6 assists per game. Senior Shala Reese, a 6-1 forward, is the leading rebounder, averaging 8.9 boards per game, scoring 15.8 points. Freshman Tiffany Porter-Talbert (5-9 guard) is the steals leader with a 1.8 average, contributing 12.4 points per game, while senior Kristina Covington (5-10 guard) rounds out the double-digit scorers with 10.9 points per game.
Rutgers is 0-2 against Western Kentucky, with both meetings coming in the NCAA Tournament. The two teams first met in the 1986 East Region Final in Philadelphia, PA, with Western Kentucky winning, 89-74, on March 22. The last meeting between the Scarlet Knights and the Hilltoppers was on March 16, 1994, in the NCAA Tournament first round, an 84-73 loss for the Knights in Piscataway.
Rutgers is 18-13 (.581) in the NCAA Tournament, including an 8-10 (.444) mark when playing away from the Louis Brown Athletic Center. In first-round games, RU is 7-3 (.700). The only other time Rutgers has played its first-round game on a neutral court was 1998, when the fifth-seeded Scarlet Knights defeated No. 12 Oregon 79-76 in Ames, IA. This is the second time the Scarlet Knights have been a fourth seed, and the second time they have been placed in the Midwest Region. As the fourth seed in the West Region in 2001, Rutgers defeated No. 13 Stephen F. Austin 80-43, then lost to No. 5 Southwest Missouri State 60-53 in Piscataway. In 1999, RU advanced to the Elite Eight as the third seed in the Midwest Region.
Since head coach C. Vivian Stringer came to “the Banks,” Rutgers has posted a 10-4 (.714) mark in its four NCAA Tournament appearances, advancing to the Second Round (2001), Sweet Sixteen (1998), Elite Eight (1999) and Final Four (2000). In each of those tournaments, the Scarlet Knights were eliminated by a team which advanced to at least the national semifinals -- 1998, 92-60 loss in regional semifinals to Tennessee (national champion); 1999, 75-62 loss in regional final to Purdue (national champion); 2000, 64-54 loss in national semifinals to Tennessee (national runner-up); 2001, 60-53 loss in second round to Southwest Missouri State (national semifinalist).
Every NCAA Tournament game is being shown on the ESPN family of networks. Please check local listings for games and times. In addition, WCTC 1450 AM and WRSU 88.7 FM are broadcasting every Rutgers NCAA Tournament game.
Rutgers Head Coach C. Vivian Stringer
“I am very excited about where we are going to play and who we are going to play. This is such great fun. We are just happy to have an opportunity to play.”
“The BIG EAST was very tough this year. That’s why there are seven teams and all seven will represent themselves very well. People are going to be stunned by how strong we are as a conference. That’s why you saw a lot of the close games all throughout the season and that will continue on into the tournament.”
“Our team has been working extremely hard and we as a coaching staff are very proud of this group.”
“We don’t know too much about Western Kentucky, but come tomorrow morning, we’ll know them like they are old friends.”
Rutgers’ Cappie Pondexter (So., 5-9 G)
“I am just excited to be in this situation. We were 9-20 last year and we are 20-7 now. It is good to be the underdog going into the tournament.”
“Every game we learn from. The Miami game was our last and we lost it, but we will take something from it. We are just excited to move on. We are facing Western Kentucky so we are starting over with a new game plan and will keep working hard.”
“We are just going to take one game at a time and concentrate on Western Kentucky and not look ahead.”
Rutgers’ Mauri Horton (Sr., 5-8 G)
“We are very excited to be here. We should adjust well and be ready to play.”
“We have a chance to do very well. This is something we have been focusing on. We are happy to be a fourth seed and we are excited to play Western Kentucky. I think this is a good bracket, one we have a chance to do very well in.”
Rutgers’ Shalicia Hurns (Jr., 6-3 F)
“Last year we weren't able to do this and this year it is a big deal and today is Coach Stringer’s birthday so it makes it more special. It is great knowing we finally made it. We sang for her earlier in the day. We love hanging out with her like she is our friend and being under her guidance.”
“We were excited to hear our name called. We don't really know anything about Western Kentucky yet, but I am sure we will know a lot about them come tomorrow.”