March 13, 2005

Rutgers: Stringer: TV forced reaction

Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer said yesterday she would have preferred to handle Cappie Pondexter's confrontation with Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma privately, but the incident had been broadcast live on ESPN.

Stringer said the replay of Pondexter's finger-pointing in Auriemma's face immediately following Connecticut's 67-51 victory in the Big East Tournament championship game on Tuesday forced Stringer to take a public stand in defense of her player.

"The reason it needed to be addressed was because it was seen," Stringer said. "I did what I did because of the circumstances, and I think any coach in that situation would have done the same thing. I'm not going to have me or these kids defamed. Anybody in their right mind would do that, because a picture tells a thousand words.

"It didn't look good, but you don't see the things that happened before. It's not serving Cappie well as a player, and I work too hard to be the coach I am to be accused of having thugs that are trying to beat up a coach."

Pondexter, Rutgers' point guard, confronted Auriemma as the teams shook hands after the game. Pondexter and Stringer said Auriemma made an inappropriate comment to Pondexter during the second half, but Auriemma claimed he was talking to a referee. None of the individuals involved has revealed what Auriemma said or was thought to have said. Rutgers athletic director Robert Mulcahy would say only that it included a profanity.

A Big East ruling Thursday cleared Auriemma of any wrongdoing. In a statement, Big East commissioner Michael Tranghese described the incident as a "misunderstanding" between Auriemma and Pondexter. At first, Stringer was bothered that Pondexter was not mentioned in the statement at all, but believes that Pondexter's exoneration is implied.

"I wish (Tranghese) had gone further in absolving Cappie individually," Stringer said. "That's what I personally think. But in light of what he did say, I think it's clear there was a misunderstanding. If I was writing that statement, I would have said exactly what he said, but I just would have said that Coach Auriemma and Cappie Pondexter have been cleared, and in the heat of an exchange, some things are misunderstood, and what's wrong with that?

"The implication is that this man was accused of something, but that's not what it was and he's cleared. And I'm fine with that. I ain't trying to bring Geno down. If that's the statement, then fine."

Stringer would not discuss the nature of Auriemma's comment, but did say she considers the matter resolved.

"I do like and respect Geno, and we don't need to make this a New Jersey-vs.-Connecticut bad blood story," Stringer said. "I'm not one to start some stuff and keep it going. I love this game, I love the people, and I don't want any mess. I never did.

"I want people to respect these young ladies for the players they are and, when I see anything that comes close to damaging them, and putting a mark on us as a team, it raises a flag. And I'll protect them and this program."

Big East's investigation clears Auriemma in Pondexter incident

NEW YORK -- The Big East Conference announced last night it would take no action against Connecticut women's basketball coach Geno Auriemma after investigating charges by Rutgers he made an inappropriate comment to Cappie Pondexter during the conference tournament championship game on Tuesday.

"Following a very thorough and comprehensive investigation in which over a dozen individuals and involved parties were interviewed, I have determined Geno Auriemma did not act inappropriately at any time during and after the (game)," Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese said in a statement released last night.

Pondexter, Rutgers' star point guard, confronted Auriemma as the teams shook hands after the Huskies' 67-51 victory. Pondexter and Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer said Auriemma made an inappropriate comment to the Rutgers player during the second half of the game, while Auriemma said he was talking to one of the referees.

Neither school would disclose what Auriemma said, but Rutgers athletic director Bob Mulcahy said after the game the comments included a profanity.

Tranghese said he spoke with Auriemma and Pondexter yesterday.

"I never disclose whatever I talk about," Tranghese said. "We have nothing to gain by hanging out dirty laundry."

Mulcahy said the school agreed to abide by the decision, but would not comment further.

Rutgers: Big East probing Auriemma-Pondexter incident

NEW YORK -- Big East commissioner Michael Tranghese said he will wait until Rutgers and Connecticut complete fact-finding investigations before possibly taking action on the incident involving Cappie Pondexter, the Knights' leading scorer, and Huskies coach Geno Auriemma after Tuesday's conference championship game in Hartford, Conn.

In a meeting yesterday morning at the Grand Hyatt in Manhattan with Rutgers athletic director Bob Mulcahy and Connecticut AD Jeff Hathaway, Tranghese said he instructed both to look into the matter and report back to him.

Tranghese declined to speculate what action -- if any -- he might take.

"I need to know what happened. I wasn't there. I only saw it on TV and that's not a frame of reference for taking any action," Tranghese said at last night's men's Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden. "I've asked Bob and Jeff to find out everything they can and present it to me. Then I'll decide what to do."

Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer said Auriemma, a winner of five national championships, made a remark directed at Pondexter that was "unbecoming ... to any player, anytime, anywhere."

Mulcahy initially said the remark involved a profanity, but no one would say what Auriemma's exact words were.

Auriemma said his words were directed at an official during the closing moments of the game.

Pondexter confronted Auriemma during handshakes after Connecticut's 67-51 victory over Rutgers at the Hartford Civic Center -- with the moment captured by ESPN cameras. Auriemma and Stringer then met privately after the postgame press conferences.

The incident was the latest in a series of high drama between the two schools -- and between the two high-profile coaches.

"There's so much emotion right now. ... It's hard to separate emotion from reality," Mulcahy said before Rutgers' men's game against Notre Dame. "We're going to talk to everybody with knowledge of the situation. Michael asked us to gather whatever information we could and turn it over to him."

Mulcahy said he didn't know how long the fact-finding process would take, but indicated it might have to wait until after the Rutgers women's team finishes the NCAA Tournament.

Hathaway said he had no comment.

"There's nothing to say right now," Hathaway said from the men's Big East Tournament. "Once there's something to say, believe me, I'll have plenty to say."

Pondexter and Stringer declined comment yesterday, according to school spokeswoman Heather Brocious.

"Coach Stringer and Cappie said what they had to say (Tuesday night)," Brocious said. "Coach has no further comment beyond her remarks (Tuesday night)."

"I'm not (ticked) off," Pondexter said after the game. "There's nothing much to be said about the situation. Me and Coach Auriemma will talk about the situation.

"That situation was just two competitive people. I was upset, but I know it's not the end of the world. We're both human beings and we're adults. We have to talk, and that's the bottom line."

Brocious said she did not know if Pondexter and Auriemma had yet spoken.

After the game, Auriemma said, "I don't have to defend anything."

He added: "Vivian has no idea what I said -- zero idea what I said. The incident in question was never about Cappie."

Another Bitter Defeat

HARTFORD, Conn. -- It was ugly at the start, and it was ugly at the end.

And in between, Rutgers managed to forget all the things that had gotten it to the Big East title game in the first place, all the things it is hoping it can regain in time for the NCAA Tournament 10 days from now.

The No. 9 Scarlet Knights had fancied themselves ripe for their first Big East Tournament championship, but against an ever-wily Connecticut team, ranked 13th, that has gotten quite used to beating them over the years, the suddenly timid Scarlet Knights served themselves up for defeat.

They fell, 67-51, at the Civic Center, and watched the Huskies claim their 12th Big East title. Not a nice feeling for a No. 1 seed, not a nice feeling heading into what Cappie Pondexter calls "chapter three" of Rutgers' story this season: the NCAA Tournament.

"We are still that (successful) team," Pondexter insisted. "This late in the season, that was the wrong time not to play our best game, but we didn't play it and that's the bottom line. We're going in feeling that we can still do our thing."

The first half, in which Rutgers was down by 21 at one point, was bad. A late-game confrontation between Pondexter and Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma was worse.

With about four minutes left in the game, Pondexter was seen pointing in Auriemma's face near the sideline. Postgame, it became a he-said/she-said issue -- Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer claiming that Auriemma said something "unbecoming" of a coach to Pondexter, Auriemma claiming he did not.

Pondexter refused to elaborate on the incident, but she was clearly agitated. It was tough to tell, though, what upset her more: Auriemma's alleged comment or her team's abject failure in such a big game. Pondexter had 19 points, and she could not have cared less.

"I really wanted this Big East title, but I can't do it alone," Pondexter said. "It's not about me. For us to win at the highest level, our team has to be on the same page. Not just Cappie Pondexter. Not just Matee Ajavon. Everybody. Everybody wearing the scarlet and black has to be on the same page. Tonight that did not happen.

"Every loss that we've had, we have not been on the same page."

The problems were many, beginning with Pondexter's allusion to her and Ajavon carrying the load.

Ajavon had 20 points, so she and Pondexter accounted for 39 of Rutgers' 51 points. Nikki Jett had zero points. Michelle Campbell had zero points. Essence Carson had two points. Chelsea Newton, who had 34 points combined in the previous two tournament games, had one point.

"You can see by the numbers," Newton said. "Michelle didn't have her best game. I wasn't there. I can't say much, but it just wasn't tonight. It was the wrong night."

Campbell struggled in both of her roles under the basket. Rutgers lacked a significant post presence throughout, and Connecticut pulled down 17 offensive rebounds. Huskies forward Barbara Turner, who finished with 13 points and was named Most Outstanding Performer of the tournament, had her way with Campbell and Rebecca Richman in the paint in the first half. Stringer was disgusted.

"They ought to be well-rested, because they doggone sure didn't show up, at all, today," Stringer said. "Michelle, 'E' (Carson). The posts were ghosts. They were completely outplayed. Dominated."

And finally, the relentless defensive pressure Rutgers (25-6) exhibited in a 64-59 victory over Villanova in the semifinals on Monday was nonexistent. Connecticut (23-7) walked right through the full-court press that had overwhelmed the Wildcats.

"I think (the Huskies) studied it well," Pondexter said. "I'm quite sure Coach Auriemma studied it and did some things. And they affected it tonight."

In doing so, the Huskies improved to 5-0 against Rutgers all time in the postseason and 18-2 overall.

"UConn is a great team," Pondexter said. "They understand personnel, they work together well. This was their night."

Rutgers: Auriemma in the middle of angry words

HARTFORD, Conn. -- The Big East Tournament championship game was never very interesting. But the postgame? If only the 9,000 fans who shelled out $30 and braved the winter storm had all-access passes to the postgame, because that was compelling.

You had Rutgers' leading scorer Cappie Pondexter confronting Geno Auriemma, a five-time NCAA Championship winning coach at Connecticut, during handshakes -- a moment broadcast live on ESPN.

You had Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer blasting Auriemma for directing a comment at Pondexter that she called "unbecoming ... to any player, at any time, anywhere."

You had an angry Auriemma yelling "I want to see (Stringer) right now -- right now!" to a Big East official before denying he made any inappropriate comment.

And you had both sides promising in the coming days to revisit the incident, one that took the focus off a dominant Huskies performance in a 67-51 victory.


It was a confusing he-said-she-said moment, the latest in a long history of acrimony between the two programs and their high-profile head coaches.

Both sides agreed the disagreement stemmed over something Auriemma said on the bench during the second half. Nobody would elaborate on what was said, but Rutgers athletic director Bob Mulcahy said it included a profanity.

Pondexter confronted Auriemma, who coached her on the 2001 U.S. junior national team, pointing at him as she spoke. When Pondexter was asked about what happened, Stringer answered the question.

"We say things to our players, but we should never, at any time, address another player," Stringer said. "And surely, we would not speak like that to your own player."

Pondexter, who scored 19 points on 7-of-23 shooting, said after the press conference: "Remarks were made. I'm not going to get into the situation."

She added that she had a good relationship with Auriemma. "It was definitely surprising. It's two (people) with competitive natures going head to head. But like Coach Stringer said, a coach should never address (an opposing) player and a player should never address a coach."

Auriemma was aware of what Stringer said when he emerged from the Connecticut locker room. He demanded to see Stringer, and the two coaches met for about 10 minutes behind the dais where the postgame press conferences were held.

Their conference was loud enough to be heard by the waiting reporters, prompting a Hartford Civic Center official to turn up the music in the room. Ironically, the song was "(I've Got You) Under My Skin" by Frank Sinatra.

Auriemma initially declined comment. But when asked if he wanted to defend himself in response to Stringer's comments, he said, "I don't have to defend anything. Vivian has no idea what I said -- zero idea what I said. Okay? Cappie knows what I said."

Later, he said he was addressing an official regarding an incident with another Rutgers player, not Pondexter. "Cappie should be upset. Cappie should be upset," he said. "And not because of anything Coach Auriemma said. Trust me on that.

"Am I worried about it? Am I concerned about it? I would be if I said something inappropriate. But I won't lose any sleep over it."

Mulcahy said he planned to address the incident with Connecticut athletic director Jeff Hathaway. In another ironic twist, the two men were planning to make the two-hour drive from Hartford to Manhattan for the Big East men's basketball tournament, which begins today.

"Hopefully," Mulcahy said, "it's a misunderstanding as everybody claims it was."

Rutgers Notebook: Knights deny any disrespect

HARTFORD, Conn. -- What seemed to be a case of questionable sportsmanship after Rutgers' 67-51 loss to Connecticut last night was nothing more than a case of bad timing, the Scarlet Knights insisted.

In the immediate aftermath of the game, half of the Knights walked away from the handshake line with the Huskies, turning their backs on teammates who stood and waited to slap hands with opposing players. But Chelsea Newton said it was simply a matter of giving the Huskies time to stay in their huddle and celebrate.

"We lined up to speak to them, but they were in their huddle. We respect them and that they won," Newton said. "It wasn't any dislike or hatred or anything like that. They were cheering themselves, and they were over in the corner."

Cappie Pondexter said it was the Huskies who had walked away from the Knights.

"They went into their huddle," Pondexter said. "We were ready, and they went. That's what happened."

Pondexter and freshman guard Matee Ajavon were named to the all-tournament team, and Ajavon was very impressive in her first postseason experience. She had a team-high 20 points against Connecticut to finish with 50 points in three tournament games.

"I definitely felt a new intensity in the game," Ajavon said. "It's more intense than the regular season, and everybody is up against the wall and everybody wants to win. That can only help me get better."

Connecticut junior forward Barbara Turner had 13 points and was named Most Outstanding Performer of the tournament after scoring 47 points in three games. She gave Rutgers' post players fits, and Knights coach C. Vivian Stringer was not happy, mainly with her own players.

"That girl was giving elbows, everything," Stringer said. "She took her drives, she took her rebounds. Any time they get more offensive rebounds (17) than we got defensive rebounds (15), you tell me who showed up."

Turner left the game with a right knee injury late in the first half after a hard fall on a collision with Michelle Campbell. She returned in the second half.

"I think our team fed off her, the way she played, and that's exactly what we've always needed from Barbara," Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma said. "I'm really proud of her. She grew up an awful lot as a person and a player in the last three days."

A midday snowstorm that crippled the roads and highways around Hartford likely affected the attendance for the championship game. Just 9,036 showed up in an arena that seats 16,294 and is usually packed for Connecticut women's games. It was loud in favor of the Huskies, but Pondexter -- asked if Rutgers was affected by the crowd -- was not impressed.

"It can't be the crowd," she said. "Compared to what we've seen in previous years, this was nothing."

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