By JOHN MOSSMAN
AP Sports Writer
DENVER – Monday night’s NCAA women’s Midwest Regional final features the two best centers in the country.
Keeping them on the floor and out of foul trouble could be the key to the outcome.
Ruth Riley of top-seeded Notre Dame is a first-team All-America selection and consensus player of the year. Chantelle Anderson of third-seeded Vanderbilt is second-team All-America.
Riley had 24 points, 14 rebounds and six assists in leading the Fighting Irish to a 69-54 win over Utah in a regional semifinal Saturday night.
Anderson had 34 points and eight rebounds to spark Vanderbilt over Iowa State 84-65 in the other semifinal.
“I think the team that’s going to win is the team that can keep its center out of foul trouble,” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said Sunday. “Obviously, both teams want to do that as long as possible, and that’s been a key for us all year long.”
Riley, a 6-foot-5 senior, fouled out of two games this season, including a 54-53 loss to Rutgers that was one of only two setbacks for the Irish (31-2). She had four fouls on six other occasions, including Notre Dame’s other loss, to Connecticut 78-76 in the Big East championship game.
Anderson, a 6-6 sophomore, was considerably more foul prone. She fouled out of six games and collected four fouls 12 times. The Commodores went 3-3 in those half-dozen games when Anderson made a premature exit.
Vanderbilt coach Jim Foster warns, however, that Anderson’s frequent foul trouble can actually spell problems for the opposition.
“We play much differently when Chantelle goes out of the game,” Foster said.
Instead of a deliberate team that tries to pound the ball inside to Anderson, the Commodores “become a team of five players who can shoot the 3, five players that can put the ball on the floor. I feel comfortable with either team playing,” Foster said.
Asked to compare Riley to Anderson, Foster said, “Ruth Riley is a finished product, and I think Chantelle Anderson is a work in progress.”
Foster acknowledged that Riley has one advantage in the matchup.
“Ruth Riley is as good a distributor of the basketball, in that position, as I have seen in a long time,” he said.
When double-teamed, each center, he said, must make good decisions about whether to shoot or find the open player.
“If they make good decisions, the shooters are going to get the ball in an opportunistic place and they have to pull the trigger,” he said.
Foster said each center should relish the matchup.
“Great players are measured by their performance against other great players,” he said. “Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. You need someone to challenge you to take you to another dimension, to see if your greatness can surface. I think it’s a great opportunity for two young women to compete against each other in a venue such as this with so much at stake.”
Both centers had kind words for each other.
Anderson called Riley “a great offensive player who can really pass and rebound well. She pretty much does it all. She’s one of the only centers that I’ve heard a lot about that I haven’t faced on any level. Having faced great post players in the SEC, I think I’m prepared. I just have to play my game.”
Riley, noting that Anderson leads the nation in field-goal percentage at 73 percent, said, “She has great touch around the basket. It makes her very hard to defend. She does a great job of getting position in the lane, and that makes her able to just turn and shoot over.”
Riley watched Anderson in the win over Iowa State.
“I was really impressed with the way she played,” Riley said. “She was able to dominate. I think it shows how far women’s basketball has come, for a sophomore to be able to do that. It speaks a lot for the evolution of the sport and how far we’ve come.”