Newton shines bright in final season for Knights

English scientist Isaac Newton is said to have been sitting under an apple tree when he came up with his Law of Gravitation. That's the principle that there is an attractive force existing between any two particles of matter.

Several hundred years later, a Rutgers senior guard with the same last name as Sir Isaac, has a full appreciation of the laws of gravity. Unfortunately for Chelsea Newton, it has not been as painless as an apple falling on her head.

Over the course of her career, Newton has felt gravity pulling her toward some dangerous particles of matter, including wayward elbows, punishing picks, a basket stanchion and even a few press row tables.

Newton has suffered injuries to her head, neck, nose, shoulder, knee, ankle and finger. She has survived heartache, hundreds of ice bags, three-hour practices and four-hour rehab sessions. One of her best friends is Terry Marcazo, not a roommate or a teammate, but a Rutgers trainer.

Despite it all, Newton keeps coming back for more, succumbing to the attractive forces pulling her back to the game that keeps trying to break her spirit.

"Her toughness is one of her best qualities," said Scarlet Knights coach C. Vivian Stringer, the fourth winningest coach in NCAA history. "Chelsea is the hardest-working player I've ever coached in over 30 years of basketball."

Newton credits Stringer for making her that way.

"My freshman year, I was so out of shape I wasn't ready to compete at this level," Newton admitted. "Coach was on me all the time, constantly after me to keep working as hard as I could."

Newton's most difficult moments came during her junior year when she suffered a shoulder injury right before the fall semester. Everything seemed headed in the right direction when her rehab, which was supposed to take a few months, lasted only a few weeks, and Newton proclaimed herself ready for a highly anticipated return to her native Louisiana for a game against LSU.

Instead, a comeback that was perhaps a bit premature resulted in Newton's being in and out of the lineup for much of last season. She never got back to 100 percent or the player she wanted to be.

Over the summer, Newton got plenty of rest and worked the weights to build up her strength. She was determined to have her body ready for a challenging senior season in the Big East and beyond. Coach Stringer was right there beside her, encouraging Newton to prepare for a big finish to her career.

"Coach Stringer has taught me that there is no limit to what I can do if I apply myself," Newton said. "Now, anything coach needs, I'll do. Usually that means playing good defense."

Newton has become one of the best defenders in the nation because of a strong work ethic and pride in making sure the job is done right.

"I believe every loose ball is mine," Newton said. "I have a right to get it before anyone else does. I approach a game as if no one should score on me.

"It makes me sick to my stomach when someone does beat me. I hate to look over to the sideline and see the look on coach Stringer's face."

Not many opponents have beaten Newton, who approaches defense as if it's a science. She studies tape of herself and opponents to find ways to improve or gain an advantage. Her technique is straight out of a textbook: quick feet, quick hands and a tenacious attitude.

It's a style of play that gives her teammates energy, and never was that more evident than in a recent game against Connecticut before a sellout crowd at the Louis Brown Athletic Center in New Brunswick, N.J.

Newton was not able to play in the first meeting against UConn this year because of -- what else? -- an injury. A concussion had forced her to watch from the sidelines as her team struggled in a disappointing loss. For the rematch, however, Newton was in the spotlight. Rutgers' coaches and players talked publicly for days before the game that Newton would be the difference. Such remarks were met with a bit of skepticism by the media, as well as the folks up in Storrs, Conn.

Could Newton make that much of a difference? Yes. A resounding yes.

In a game with a handful of national champions and All-America candidates, Newton was by far the best player on the floor. From the start, she set the tone with her defense and tenacity, guiding Rutgers to its first win over UConn in seven years. She scored 19 points, grabbed six rebounds and helped force 21 Huskies turnovers.

"I saw in the first game with UConn that we needed energy," Newton said. "That's what I wanted to bring to the rematch.

"That was a players' game. Coach couldn't make us want it; we had to bring it ourselves. It was the game we had been waiting for, in our house, and I was not going to let my teammates down."

Newton is not about to let down anyone -- not her team, coach Stringer or her parents back home in Monroe, La. Not even Sir Isaac Newton.

An exercise science major who wants to pursue her masters in sports administration, Chelsea Newton hopes to run her own sports program someday, perhaps dabble in a little team chemistry. But she's not interested in statistics (sorry, Sir Isaac). Her focus is on team goals; always has been, always will be.

On Tuesday, Rutgers won its first outright Big East regular-season title, snapping UConn's 11-year streak of winning at least a share of the crown. The Scarlet Knights head up to Hartford this weekend as the No. 1 seed in the Big East tournament and with a shot at their first conference postseason championship.

"I remember when we only had nine wins my freshman year," Newton said. "It brings tears to my eyes when I think about how far we've come.

And all along, Stringer has reminded her players to shoot for more.

"Coach Stringer talked to the seniors last summer, telling us we could pass or pass," Newton explained. "We can just let the college experience pass us by and not do anything special, or we can get a passing grade and be successful at achieving goals and being remembered.

"I want to be a part of the first group to do special things like win the Big East and the NCAA championship."

Now that it's March, those laws of gravitation are kicking in again, pulling Newton toward the culmination of all she has worked for on the basketball court. And she's pulling the rest of the Knights along with her.

How about them apples?

Beth Mowins is a regular contributor to ESPN.com's women's basketball coverage.