The second-round game centers around two seniors destined for the WNBA, in the Tigers’ DeWanna Bonner and the Scarlet Knights’ Kia Vaughn. The Tigers are the higher seed, but the Scarlet Knights are on their home floor, a daunting place for any opponent. The winner advances to the Sweet Sixteen via the Oklahoma City Regional.
No. 2 AUBURN 85, No. 15 LEHIGH 49
The Tigers took advantage of their best seed since 1990, routing Lehigh, the Patriot League champion, at Louis Brown Athletic Center in Piscataway.
Auburn (30-3) was last a Number Two seed 19 years ago, and on that occasion the Tigers advanced to their third straight Final Four. Auburn lost to George Washington a year ago in the first round.
This time around, the Tigers never trailed in the opening round game. The Tigers ran out to a 25-7 advantage in the initial 7:56 and Lehigh didn’t come within single digits the rest of the way.
Lehigh (26-7) was making its first appearance in the NCAA tournament since 1997.
SEC Player of the Year Bonner scored 26 points in 30 minutes. Whitney Boddie, the nation’s assist leader, went into the game with 250 dishes to her credit this season, and added nine more to that total, along with eight points, six rebounds and three blocks.
“We knew it would be physical,” said 6-4 senior guard Bonner, who finished 10-of-10 from the free-throw line and hauled down seven rebounds. “I tried to use my speed and my size to shoot over them.”
Alex Cross, whose six three-pointers boosted Lehigh past Lafayette in the Patriot League championship game, scored 10 points on 4-of-15 shooting. The Mountain Hawks did not score a point in the final nine minutes.
Lehigh did not show the speed or athleticism to compete with the Tigers, who lost twice to Vanderbilt and once to Georgia after starting the season 20-0.
No. 7 RUTGERS 57, No. 10 VIRGINIA COMMONWEALTH 51
It was supposed to be a battle of inside strength between Rutgers' star post Kia Vaughn and VCU center Quanitra Hollingsworth, but Rutgers guard Epiphanny Prince was the aggressor, single-handledly providng nearly half of Rutgers' scoring power.
The junior’s day included 26 points,11 boards and four steals, good enough to earn the Scarlet Knights a shot at reaching the Sweet 16. Prince rang up four three-point plays in what turned into a dazzling afternoon for the charismatic guard from Brooklyn.
“We knew coming in she would be one of the most talented guards we had seen all season,” said Rams coach Beth Cunningham. “A player of her caliber at some point is going to get going. She’s just so poised.”
It was the fifth double-double of the season for Prince, who schooled the Rams with her shifty moves and one acrobatic maneuver underneath the basket.
“My jump shots weren’t falling,” Prince said. “Coach was telling me to drive and I was successful doing that.”
Despite their lower seed, Virginia Commonwealth gave Rutgers plenty to handle through much of the game. Although VCU (26-7) had never been to the NCAA tournament, the Rams looked at home on Rutgers’ home court early, trailing by just two, 25-23, at the break.
But VCU couldn’t keep pace with the Scarlet Knights (20-12) at the start of the second half. Prince’s three-point play started a 12-4 run to open the period. When the Rams trimmed it to 44-37, Rutgers scored 11 straight behind six points from Prince.
“You can’t allow for a team to go on runs that long,” said Hollingsworth. “That really broke our back.”
The inside matchup between seniors Vaughn and Hollingsworth started slowly when both stars sat out much of the first half with two fouls. Vaughn finished with 13 and Hollingsworth a double-double 11 boards.
Hollingsworth, who had her jersey honored on senior night, remained in foul trouble the entire game, picking up her third foul at the 15-minute mark and her fourth with 9:49 left. With Hollingsworth’s sub Courtney Hurt also having four fouls, VCU was forced to shift to a smaller lineup that gave Rutgers few problems.
The Rams managed a late 12-0 run, taking advantage of turnovers when Rutgers went to its youthful bench. Three straight Rutgers misses from the free-throw line also added to the late drama, but trailing 56-49, VCU endured three straight possessions without a score.
The NCAA appearance was the first for VCU coach Beth Cunningham since her days as a player at Notre Dame. Cunningham (nee Morgan) led the Irish to the Final Four in 1997.
After finishing 1-9 versus ranked opponents this year, Rutgers will look to slow down the Tigers and the versatile Bonner. It has been an erratic season for the Scarlet Knights, whose freshmen have struggled with finding their comfort zone under Stringer’s complex defense. But Rutgers finished the regular season winning five of its final seven, with close losses to UConn and Louisville.
Vaughn is playing the best ball of her career, making for a marquee matchup with Bonner.
“We do know that Auburn will be another level,” said Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer. “Auburn is a team that has beaten Tennessee, Vanderbilt and everybody else.”