Her team in turmoil going into the NCAA tournament, Sylvia Fowles has Louisiana State right back where the Tigers expected to be before their coach's sudden resignation: a fourth straight Final Four appearance.
Fowles overpowered Connecticut with 23 points, 15 rebounds and an intimidating defensive performance that led third-seeded LSU over the top-seeded Huskies, 73-50, Monday night in the Fresno Regional final.
The Tigers (30-7) handed the Huskies (32-4) their most lopsided tournament loss in 15 years. Connecticut, Tennessee and Louisiana Tech are the other schools to make four consecutive Final Fours.
"This is more special," Fowles said of the 2007 Final Four berth. "It's more special because our team really came together. We're playing our best basketball, and we feel good about ourselves."
The two players Fowles guarded most often -- Tina Charles and Kaili McLaren -- each went 0 for 5 from the field. Connecticut shot 33% overall.
LSU has had to deal with the March 7 resignation of coach Pokey Chatman amid allegations of improper conduct with a former player.
"I don't think a lot of people thought that we would be where we're going to be," acting Coach Bob Starkey said. "We handled the adversity."
Said Connecticut Coach Geno Auriemma: "LSU exposed all the things we're not good at. They made it a half-court game, and right now that's not one of our strengths."
Rutgers 64, Arizona State 45 -- The fourth-seeded Scarlet Knights -- who have five freshmen and no seniors on their roster -- routed the third-seeded Sun Devils to reach the Final Four for the second time and first since 2000.
Matee Ajavon had 20 points for Rutgers (26-8), which led by as many as 24 and had a 48-26 rebounding advantage over Arizona State (30-5). The Scarlet Knights were coming off a 53-52 victory over top-seeded Duke.
"This entire run through the NCAA tournament has been sort of unreal, but at the same time we understand that all the hard work we put in put us there," said Rutgers forward Essence Carson.
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Tournament at a glance
Monday's results ensured at least one NCAA women's finalist won't be top-seeded. LSU, seeded third, and Rutgers, seeded fourth, will match up at Cleveland.
He said, he said
Louisiana State Coach Bob Starkey, a longtime assistant coach for the men's and women's teams at Baton Rouge, has only four games' experience as head coach.
But he knew how to have fun with a pregame news conference when he was asked about matching wits with Connecticut Coach Geno Auriemma.
"I'm going to lose that tale of the tape.... Geno's a better coach, he's a better dresser and he's funnier than I am."
Auriemma's response: "True. But he has Sylvia Fowles."
Hold the phones
Rutgers Coach C. Vivian Stringer comes from the John Chaney school of teaching players a disciplined approach.
She once locked her players out of the locker room, took away their jerseys and made them wash their practice uniforms.
But nothing says "discipline" more to modern-day athletes than when Stringer made her players turn in their cellphones on the road.
Can't lie to the WNBA
The NCAA tournament is a comfort zone for North Carolina senior guard Ivory Latta, who hasn't lost her sense of humor even though her team was eliminated in the Final Four last season and the regional finals the year before.
Asked if she has become a big sister to her Tar Heels teammates, the 5-foot-6 Latta laughed and said she's more of a "little, big sister."
The short jokes continued when talk with the Tar Heels' All-American -- whose top-seeded team will face second-seeded Purdue in the Dallas Regional today -- turned to the WNBA draft.
"Last year, I was 5-6. Then I had my [knee] surgery and I think it put a little growth spurt in there," she said, trying to keep a straight face. "I measured myself and I was 5-7 this year. I said, 'Wow! I'm 5-7.' "
Realizing she wasn't getting anyone to bite, Latta 'fessed up: "If they want, I can be 5-8. But, yeah, to be honest, 5-6."
From Times Staff and Wire Reports