BOSSIER CITY, La. -- The way April Sykes was powering Rutgers' offense, it was easy for her handful of relatives to be heard over the thousands of Louisiana Tech fans dominating the crowd.
Sykes scored 22 points and Rutgers quieted the hostile crowd with a 76-51 victory over Louisiana Tech in the first round of the NCAA tournament on Sunday night."My grandma was in the stands. I was very excited," said Sykes, who grew up in Starkville, Miss. "My brothers, cousins -- it was great. They'll be back Tuesday. They don't have to go home, so I'm real happy."Rutgers coach Vivian Stringer, meanwhile, was pleased to see Sykes respond well to a disappointing nine-point outing in her previous game -- a loss to Connecticut in the Big East tournament."It was good. It certainly helps to build her confidence," Stringer said. "I think that she knows -- just stay in the flow and other people are going to find you."Khadijah Rushdan added 16 points and 10 rebounds for the seventh-seeded Scarlet Knights (20-12), who will face No. 2 seed Texas A&M on Tuesday night. The Aggies (28-5) beat McNeese State 87-47 in the site's first game on Sunday.Louisiana Tech (24-8) was playing only an hour's drive from its Ruston campus and a lively crowd of 5,377, mostly wearing Tech's royal blue and red, filled the lower stands.Their biggest cheer was a bittersweet recognition of the career of standout senior Adrienne Johnson, who left in the final minutes to a standing ovation while getting a hug from coach and former Lady Techsters great Teresa Weatherspoon."It was just a very emotional moment for us simply because I love her to death," Weatherspoon said.Johnson scored 20 points and Brietta Thomas added 12, but they needed more help.While Rutgers scored 40 points inside and shot 51 percent. Tech shot only 27 percent and was only 3 of 23 from 3-point range."They did exactly what they said they would do, brought a lot of bodies after Adrienne Johnson and we knew that if we could knock down some shots, we would remain in the game," Weatherspoon said. "Unfortunately, tonight the ball did not go down for us."Chelsey Lee added 11 points, 11 rebounds and three blocked shots for Rutgers, which outrebounded Tech 44-34.Although Louisiana Tech has made two straight NCAA tournaments since Weatherspoon took over as coach a little more than two seasons ago, it has resulted in a first-round exit each time.Louisiana Tech pulled into a 14-14 tie on Johnson's layup as she was fouled with 11:17 to go in the first half. But just when it appeared Weatherspoon's squad was going to hold its own against her mentor Stringer's team, the Lady Techsters began to fall apart.Sykes had a lot to do with that.She scored the next seven points on two layups and a 3, and Rushdan completed a 9-0 run with another layup as the Scarlet Knights began to pull away for good, closing the half on a 25-7 run."Coach Stringer tells me all the time not to worry about the last play so I'm lost right now," Sykes said when asked about the run. "I didn't realize I scored seven points in a row."We did a great job of finding each other today," Sykes continued. "When I make easier shots, it's an easier flow for myself and helps the team. I think it's great that they were getting me into the game early and it was a plus for us tonight."Tech missed 16 of its last 20 shots of the first half, and Rutgers took a 39-21 lead on Lee's layup shortly before halftime.Rutgers' lead quickly exceeded 20 points in the second half and stayed there the rest of the way."We probably were dominant and not something to be honest with you that we've been experiencing this year much," Stringer said. "Maybe we're learning how to do that."