Temple meets Rutgers on Tuesday for the right to return triumphantly as
toast of the town in the Philadelphia Regional.
All things considered, this matchup may be happening at least one round
too early. The Owls are on a 25-game winning streak, and they don't much
seem like a No. 6 seed. But, this is how it is.
The more important thing is this game is happening at all. There are storylines that would make for a primetime special, which is what this game will be on Tuesday night.
Start with the coaches -- Temples Dawn Staley and Rutgers' C. Vivian Stringer. It would be disingenuous not to point out the obvious: this is a matchup of two African-American coaches in a sport that does not have enough of them. Anyone can be a role model, don't get me wrong. But Stringer and Staley can be very specific role models to young girls who perhaps -- in seeing them -- will really think seriously about joining the coaching profession.
Of course, Stringer and Staley would just as soon this game be about their players, not them. And, indeed, there will be some outstanding players on the floor.
Rutgers has the leadership of Cappie Pondexter, Chelsea Newton, Nikki
Jett and Michelle Campbell (who always has to play "bigger" than she is, and
does it.) And the Scarlet Knights have two of the country's top freshmen in
Matee Ajavon (don't look now, but she's already past you) and Essence (At
the Rim) Carson.
Rutgers had its big splash in late December-early January, when it beat
Tennessee, Texas and LSU in succession. The Knights split regular-season
games against Connecticut, then lost to the Huskies in the Big East
tournament final ... you might have heard something about a "difference of
opinion" between Stringer and UConn coach Geno Auriemma after that game.
But did you know that Temple beat Rutgers in their regular-season
meeting, 71-60 on Dec. 13? The Owls got a huge game that day from one of
their senior leaders, guard Cynthia Jordan, with 28 points.
She and fellow senior Ari Moore, plus junior Candice Dupree and sophomore
Kamesha Hairston have started every game this season and all are averaging
30-plus minutes per game. They're Temple's iron women, and they play the
game in a reflection of their coach.
Staley is in her fifth season at Temple and wants the spotlight to go
away from her. But it's hard to make that happen, because she's such a
phenomenal story. Anyone who saw Staley in college at UVa recalls what a
heartbreaker it was to see her go to three Final Fours and never get a
Yet sometimes I wonder if maybe that wasn't the "fuel" for what's kept her
going this long as a WNBA/Olympic player and now a college coach. Maybe
she'd have done it anyway, even if the Cavaliers had won all three NCAA
titles. But perhaps those disappointments just strengthened the resolve she
Staley has had so much success since her college playing days -- including
three Olympic gold medals -- that sometimes I almost forget that she didn't
"win it all" at UVa And that's really cool, because Staley is as much a
"winner" as anyone in college hoops.
Stringer is just a legendary figure, even if she's not particularly
popular in Hartford, Conn., these days. She spent 11 years at Cheyney State,
12 at Iowa and is now in her 10th season at Rutgers. She's taken all three
programs to the NCAA Final Four.
Rarely do you get so many big storylines, so much emotion and history, in
one NCAA Tournament game. Let alone a second-round game. Enjoy this one,
Mechelle Voepel of The Kansas City Star is a regular contributor to ESPN.com's women's basketball coverage. E-mail her at email@example.com.