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W. Hoops' Zone Defense Breaks Down Against Pondexter

Rutgers' star tallies 19 in the second half to lead Scarlet Knights to victory

By Jessica T. Lee, Crimson Staff Writer

Harvard coach Kathy Delaney-Smith knew exactly what she was facing in All-American point guard Cappie Pondexter.

But no matter how many tapes you watch, or how many sheets of statistics you study, are you ever really ready for a 5’9 player who can jump over the block of a 6’3 defender? Man-to-man defense doesn’t often work against a team as athletic as Rutgers, and the Crimson prepared for that with an effective zone in the first half.

“We didn’t really feel like we matched up great with them man to man, so that’s why we worked a lot this week on our zone defense,” said senior point guard Bev Moore. “They like to play a lot of one-on-one basketball, so we just wanted to play off of them, not let them have a lot of room to make their great moves.”

In the first half, the Crimson zone blocked passing lanes and forced Rutgers to drive through defenders or take perimeter shots. However, in the second frame, the Scarlet Knights adapted or—more accurately—Pondexter took over.

The junior guard had shot six-of-eight from the field for 13 points in the first half, but eclipsed that performance in the second, with six-of-7 shooting for 17 more points.

Pondexter’s 30 points almost matched her career high of 31, registered against Georgetown on Feb. 22.

“We knew how talented she was,” Delaney-Smith said. “We shouldn’t have let her get 30 points. We should have put a lid on that a little sooner, I guess…not that you can. That’s a player who can get her shot when she wants it.”

In the second half, whenever the Rutgers offense stalled in the Crimson zone, Pondexter would nail a jumper, no matter the defense or her place on the court. She demonstrated to the crowd 1,710 at Lavietes why she is a candidate for just about every player of the year award in the nation.

Delaney-Smith had already known this, as she was the assistant coach for USA Basketball’s team for the 2003 World Championship for Young Women, which won gold in Croatia last summer. Pondexter had been a member of the USA Basketball program for four summers and was the co-captain and starting point guard for Delaney-Smith.

Pondexter could not play her freshman year due to NCAA eligibility rules, but made her presence felt throughout the Big East during her sophomore year. She was not only named Big East Rookie of the Year, but was also the first rookie to be named to the All-Big East First Team in league history.

“Their point guard is obviously one of the top point guards in the nation,” Moore said. “I knew that coming into the game. I knew she was going to put her hand in my face and hit some Michael Jordan shots, which she did.”

Pondexter wasn’t the only Scarlet Knight to hassle the Crimson shooters. Senior guard Dawn McCullouch exemplified the aggressive and speedy nature of the entire Rutgers squad.

“The game plan was to control the pace of the game and I do not think they ran on us much, so I was pretty happy,” Delaney-Smith said. “You can tell when they get out and run, they’re pretty unstoppable and they only did that maybe a couple of times.”

On defense, McCullouch could usually be found with her hand inches away from Moore’s face, the intent and effect to prevent Harvard’s point guard from hitting threes. Coming into the game, Moore was ranked fourth in the Ivy League, shooting 46.4 perfect from three-point land. Against Rutgers, Moore made two of her five trey attempts, though two of those tries came in the final minute of the game.

Moore managed her pair of three-pointers off a play in which Harvard’s offense rotated the ball around the perimeter, passing the ball for the 5’2 guard to shoot only when there was another player, junior guard Rochelle Bell, standing between Moore and her defender.

Given Moore’s reputation for ball handling and quickness, McCullouch’s ability to stick so close to the point guard without fouling was a testament to her extraordinary hustle and agility. McCullouch, easily the fastest player in Lavietes, was a speedster in high school and hopes to train for the USATF Olympic Trials this summer.

She also has a family history of athleticism, as her father, Earl McCullouch, played seven seasons with the Detroit Lions and was the 1962 NFL Rookie of the Year. Her brother, Tyrone, played in the NFL for four years and her cousin is New England’s own defensive end Willie McGinest.

However, her family legacy did nothing to make the referees look more fondly on her hard foul on Moore as she went up for a layup at the end of the first half on Tuesday night. McCullouch tallied only three personal fouls, but the refs did not smile upon Rutgers’ aggressive style as the Scarlet Knights finished with 20 personal fouls.

The Rutgers players weren’t pleased either, as they complained throughout the game about the officiating, but their talk turned to a different target at the end of the game. Harvard’s players were seen off the court by trash talk from their opponents, a common feature in some leagues, but not the Ivy.

—Staff writer Jessica T. Lee can be reached at lee45@fas.harvard.edu.

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