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Princeton and Seton Hall challenging Rutgers grip on top spot in Garden State

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SOUTH ORANGE, New Jersey — There is a lot more to women's college basketball in New Jersey than Rutgers.

While the Scarlet Knights and coach C. Vivian Stringer have been the standard bearer for the state over the past two decades, the days of Rutgers being the top dog are being challenged.

Not only has Princeton became an NCAA Tournament team in four of the past five seasons, there's a new threat in the Garden State with the re-birth of Seton Hall under coach Anthony Bozzella the past two seasons.

The NCAA women's selection committee also made this year's tournament even more exciting for Jersey fans, pairing Rutgers (22-9) against Seton Hall (28-5) on Saturday in the Pirates' first game in the big show in 20 years.

The winner hits the jackpot, drawing defending national champion Connecticut in the second round.

"What better way to start your NCAA career, after putting us back on the map after 20 years, they get to play arguably the top team in New Jersey," Bozzella said Tuesday. "I'm excited."

This is not only a chance for Seton Hall to steal to the spotlight from Rutgers, it's a shot at payback. The two former Big East rivals — Rutgers is now in the Big Ten — met in the WNIT last season and the Scarlet Knights escaped with a double overtime win in which the Pirates blew an eight-point lead in the final two minutes of regulation.

Rutgers went on to win the WNIT.

Since the pairing was announced on Monday night, Bozzella and his team have watched videotapes of several Rutgers games. He's been impressed, watching the Scarlet Knights averaging 68.8 points, the second highest average in Stringer's 20-year tenure at Rutgers.

"They have had great players and teams over the years and earned the right to be where they are," said Bozzella, who was named the coach of the year in the Big East. "We're trying to get there and what better way to get there than starting it off against Rutgers."

Rutgers knows beating Seton Hall again this season is not going to be easy.

"Bragging rights, after last year we kind of want to reclaim it," Rutgers senior Christa Evans said. "It's a huge game and it was close last year. We just want to make sure we're prepared."

Bozzella believes the Pirates, the Big East's regular-season co-champions, have to protect the ball against Rutgers' press, rebound and not give the Scarlet Knights any easy shots in the 15-foot range.

Seton Hall does have two top guards to handle the pressure in Daisha Simmons and Ka-Deidre Simmons, who are not related. Where they might be vulnerable is on the glass, an area that has caused problems all season.

"I think the Seton Hall game is good publicity for the state of New Jersey," said Rutgers sophomore guard Tyler Scaife, who had a game-high 29 points in the WNIT win last year. "If we win, we're playing UConn next. It's March Madness so anything can happen. We're just going to take it game-by-game."

It should be a fun game and it might show whether the balance of power is changing in New Jersey.

Then again, there is Princeton. The Tigers posted a 30-0 overall record en route to winning the Ivy League crown. However, the selection committee was not impressed and gave them a No. 8 seed, drawing Green Bay (28-4) on Saturday. The winner will face Maryland, the top seed in the Spokane Regional.

"You've got to be kidding me," Bozzella said of the Princeton seeding. "There are teams with eight and nine losses that are seeded ahead of them and teams that have injuries to key players that are seeded ahead of them. That's not right."

Bozzella said part of the problem was that Princeton's schedule did not have many games against top teams. It's something that he hopes to influence next season by scheduling a game against the Tigers, giving New Jersey another game to generate interest in women's basketball.

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