March 20, 2015

(AP) - 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.

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 women's selection committee also made this year's NCAA Tournament even more exciting for Jersey fans, pairing eighth-seeded Rutgers (22-9) against No. 9 seed 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 the spotlight from Rutgers, it's a shot at payback. The 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 Monday night, Bozzella and his team have watched videotapes of several Rutgers games. He's been impressed, watching the Scarlet Knights score 68.8 points per game for the second-highest average in Stringer's 20-year tenure.

''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 the Pirates 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 career-high 29 points in the WNIT victory 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.

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