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Hall of Fame coaches meet in key matchup

<p>Head coach C. Vivian Stringer brought in the highest-ranked
freshman class this season since the program’s highly touted 2008
recruiting class.</p>

Head coach C. Vivian Stringer brought in the highest-ranked freshman class this season since the program’s highly touted 2008 recruiting class.

It is not often that two coaches at the top of their sport come together to battle.

But that is exactly what happens tonight, when Pat Summit and the Tennessee Lady Volunteers pay a visit to the Louis Brown Athletic Center.

Summit is the all-time winningest coach in college basketball history and the only college basketball coach to eclipse the 1,000-win mark. Rutgers women’s basketball head coach C. Vivian Stringer is third all-time in wins for women’s college basketball with 872, second among active coaches, and is on pace to move into second place next season.

As committed as both coaches are to winning, they share a lot of history together and remain good friends to this day.

But do not expect their friendship to affect how hard either tries to earn the victory.

“Pat and I are great friends and we go back a long way, but she wouldn’t spare me. Believe me, she’s coming here to win,” Stringer said. “But when it’s time to play, we’re going to work and we’re going to prepare as best we can.”

Nostalgia aside, the game is a clash between two highly ranked teams. Each enters the game expecting to win.

The Lady Vols (4-2) arrive tonight ranked No. 7, four spots ahead of the No. 11 Scarlet Knights (9-1), who look to defend their perfect home record.

One of Tennessee’s four wins is against No. 9 Miami, which is responsible for the only Rutgers loss this season. Some coaches look at games like this and worry about facing a powerful opponent.

Stringer embraces it.

“Any time we have an opportunity to play someone that has been consistently there and has proven themselves to be at the highest level, we have to rise to the challenge,” she said. “I really love games like this. It’s like a chess match.”

One question remains: How do you play against a team with the experience and skill of Tennessee?

The Knights do not plan on changing anything. They simply want to cover every facet of the game as best they can.

“We’re not going to change what we do. We’re going to continue to do the things we’ve done for the last nine games,” said senior guard Khadijah Rushdan. “As long as we stay within our element and take care of the little things, I think we’ll be fine.”

Save for the loss to Miami, the Knights had their way with their opponents, outscoring them by double digits in seven of nine victories.

One factor is their control of the paint, a luxury they will not enjoy tonight.

The Lady Vols are equally strong underneath the basket. They average better than 11 more rebounds per game than their opponents.

“They’re a great rebounding team … so it’s definitely going to be key for us to be able to get back in transition and make sure we box out,” Rushdan said. “It’s a faster game, one of the fastest we’ll be playing, and one of the better rebounding teams we’ll be playing.”

Another strength of Rutgers is its depth. Tennessee has it, as well.

The Knights boast nine players who average double-digit minutes. So do the Lady Vols.

The final key to Rutgers’ success is its defense, which needs to be on point, as well, if the Knights plan to come out on top.

“We pride ourselves on defense. Everybody knows Rutgers for their defense,” Rushdan said. “For us not to have that in order would just throw us all off.”

No matter how tough the Lady Vols may be, the Knights want to do the same thing they have all season, especially with Stringer’s famous 55-press.

“It’s very important that we’re able to just get out and run and play our game against them and we can continue to be just as effective,” Rushdan said. “We may not be executing in the half court too much, but you can definitely count on us pressing 94 feet.”

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