Rutgers on to fourth straight Sweet 16 as Vaughn, three others hit double figures

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) -- If the first two games of the NCAA tournament are any indication, Rutgers has found an offense to complement its stingy defense.

Kia Vaughn scored a season-high 23 points, leading four players in double figures, and Rutgers advanced to the regional semifinals for the fourth straight season by beating Iowa State 69-58 on Monday night.

The Scarlet Knights survived a hostile environment and a feisty effort from Iowa State with their increasingly efficient offense. Rutgers shot over 50 percent for the second straight game -- after reaching that figure nine times in their first 30 contests.

"Our defense sparks our offense," Rutgers guard Matee Ajavon said. "We've been working on our shot all year long, and right now is when big players step up. I think everybody on our team is playing together and we're having good rhythm."

Epiphanny Prince scored 17 points, Ajavon had 16 and Essence Carson added 10 for second-seeded Rutgers (26-6). The Scarlet Knights will face sixth-seeded George Washington, surprise winners over California, in the Greensboro Regional semifinals on Monday.

Rutgers thumped George Washington, 67-42, back on Nov. 18.

Though Iowa State (21-13) never got closer than four in the second half, the Cyclones made Rutgers sweat it out. Alison Lacey hit two free throws with 1:29 left to pull Iowa State within 63-58, but Ajavon hit a pair of free throws and Prince broke Iowa State's press and found Vaughn for a layup with 19.6 seconds left to seal the win.

Heather Ezell scored 19 and Amanda Nisleit added 15 to lead Iowa State, which played just 35 miles from their campus and was buoyed by a decidedly pro-Cyclones crowd.

"It was great game, a tough game. I thought the fans made it difficult for us to hear," Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer said. "The key was that we didn't turn the ball over. We can't turn the ball over more than 10 times and win."

Rutgers finished with 10 turnovers.

The Cyclones crept back within 45-41 early in the second half. Vaughn then went to the bench with three fouls, and Iowa State looked like it had taken the momentum. But Prince buried two 3s to put Rutgers back up by 10, 51-41, with 12:40 left.

Iowa State's strategy was apparent from the opening tip. The Cyclones, one of the nation's better 3-point shooting teams, jacked up 14 3s in the opening half, hitting five. Rutgers countered by pounding it inside to Vaughn, and she muscled her way to 12 straight points to help the Scarlet Knights jump ahead by 12.

Ezell kept Iowa State within striking distance with 16 points in the first half, but Rutgers held her to 1-of-5 shooting in the second half. The Cyclones took 26 of their 49 shots from beyond the arc, shooting 34.6 percent from 3-point range, and Iowa State coach Bill Fennelly said he would have liked to see the Cyclones shoot even more 3s.

"We just couldn't get to the basket. When you play a great team you have to figure out your best option, and our best option is shoot the three or drive and kick," Fennelly said.

The Scarlet Knights shot 54.2 percent from the field and outscored Iowa State 34-18 in the paint. Vaughn did most of the damage down low, scoring 17 points in the first half.

Those points proved key later on. The Cyclones gave Rutgers all it could handle for much of the second half, but the advantage the Scarlet Knights took early on proved too much to overcome.

"The thing that kept us in the game and allowed us to maintain the lead was Kia Vaughn," Stringer said. "Once you get a lead, it is easier to get everyone involved."