Prince leads Rutgers past VCU 57-51
PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP)—Epiphanny Prince knew it was time to take over.
With her team clinging to a two-point lead and struggling on offense, Prince scored 10 of Rutgers’ 12 points in a decisive run that helped the seventh-seeded Scarlet Knights beat No. 10 seed Virginia Commonwealth 57-51 on Saturday in the NCAA tournament’s opening round.
“Coach always tells me, Kia (Vaughn) and Brittany (Ray), we’re the keepers of the house,” said Prince, who finished with 26 points. “I saw we were down and I tried to be aggressive. My jumpers weren’t falling and coach told me to drive and it was successful for me to do it.”
Rutgers (20-12) will face Auburn on Monday night in the second round of the Oklahoma City Regional. The Tigers beat Lehigh 85-49 in an earlier game Saturday.
“They’re a great team. They’re going to have a home-court advantage,” Auburn senior DeWanna Bonner said. “They’re somebody you want to play. I think we’re prepared for it. They’re a team you see on the TV all the time, ‘Oh man, I wish we could play Rutgers and see how we match up.”’
Quanitra Hollingsworth had 16 points and 11 rebounds to lead VCU (26-7), which was playing in its first NCAA tournament game.
Leading 31-29 early in the second half, Prince ignited a 12-4 burst with a three-point play. After Heather Zurich hit two free throws for Rutgers, Prince scored the next seven points and ended the burst with an acrobatic three-point play that made it 43-33.
“We knew coming in she probably would be one of the most talented guards we’ve seen all season,” VCU coach Beth Cunningham said. “I thought we did a pretty good job on her in the first half. She presents a tough matchup.”
VCU got within 44-37, but Rutgers pulled away with an 11-0 run—the final six by Prince.
The Scarlet Knights had their second unit in the game and led 55-37 with 6:22 left when VCU poured in the next 12 points. Radoslava Bachvarova’s 3-pointer with 1:27 left cut the deficit to 55-49.
Bachvarova finished with 16 points, but was 6-for-20 from the field.
The Rams had a chance to get even closer but came up empty on three straight possessions as Rutgers missed three consecutive free throws.
“There’s no art to the foul shot,” Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer said. “It’s the most amazing thing to see. You’d think we’d never seen a ball.”
Vaughn finally sealed the game by hitting one of two from the line with 33 seconds left. The senior finished with 13 points.
The game got chippy in the last few seconds as Vaughn and Kita Waller were called for technical fouls for shoving each other after a rebound. Bachvarova hit both free throws and Prince hit one for the final margin.
Prince added 11 rebounds for her first double-double this season. It was the fifth double-double of her career and second in the NCAA tournament.
VCU looked nervous from the start as Rutgers jumped out to an 8-1 lead. Bachvarova finally got the Rams going with a 3-pointer, and they even took a 17-13 lead before Prince started heating up.
She missed her first five shots before taking the ball away from the 6-foot-5 Hollingsworth on a rebound and hitting a pullup 3-pointer on the other end. On the next possession, she stole the ball at halfcourt and coasted in for an easy layup to make it 18-17.
The teams traded baskets the rest of the first half and Rutgers led 25-23 at the break.
Rutgers, which is making its 20th NCAA appearance, struggled to a seventh-place finish in the Big East conference. Still, they came on strong at the end, giving Connecticut a tough game in the regular-season finale before falling to Louisville in double overtime in the quarterfinals of the Big East tournament.
The Scarlet Knights were hosting an NCAA tournament game for the first time since 2001.
The Rams lost in the semifinals of the Colonial Athletic Association tournament and earned an at-large bid.
“This program’s come a long way in six years. It’s so rewarding to be rewarded with an at-large bid,” Cunningham said. “But it’s not the playing in the game. What makes the experience so special is overcoming what we came to get to this point.”