Women’s Basketball Still Storming: McKenith Ties Career High as Johnnies Extend Winning Streak

The St. John’s women’s basketball team extended its winning streak to six games with a 63-54 win against West Virginia at Carnesecca Arena on Feb. 21.

Junior guard Nadirah McKenith tied her career high with 26 points while junior guard Shenneika Smith added 12 points and eight rebounds in the effort.

“It’s a great win for us,” said head coach Kim Barnes Arico, “West Virginia is a terrific program,” “They’re coming off of a good week as well. A great win.”

The Red Storm jumped out to a large lead thanks to 7-0 and 10-2 runs early in the first half. But after McKenith went out with leg cramps with the Johnnies leading 47-35, the Mountaineers (19-8, 9-5) crawled to within one point at the 12:07 mark in the second half.

When McKenith returned, so did the scoring, as the team went on a 9-0 run with the point guard back in the game to put the game out of reach.

“As my trainer was stretching my calf muscle out, I saw West Virginia take the momentum in the game and I kind of told him … ‘I’ve got to go back out there to help my team,’” said McKenith, “My team needed me to control the game, so I just got out there still cramping and all.”

Coming off one of the biggest wins in the team’s history, where the Red Storm ended No. 2 Connecticut’s 99 game home winning streak, Barnes Arico was worried about a possible letdown.

“It has been a really, really exciting time,” said Barnes Arico, “[The UConn win] doesn’t happen ever. We’ve had an opportunity to really enjoy that, but it’s been a whirlwind the last couple of days.”

The St. John’s defense limited West Virginia’s scoring to just two players, Ayana Dunning and Taylor Palmer, in the first 14:21 of play. Dunning finished the game with a double-double of 21 points and 16 rebounds.

“Our defense has been the strength of our team,” Barnes Arico said. “Our kids really bought in and did a great job. We’re undersized and West Virginia could have taken advantage of that. We were able to do a pretty good job controlling it.”

The Red Storm have had one of the toughest schedules in the country this year and while they suffered tough losses early in the season, it looks to be paying off now. After falling out of the AP Top 25 early in the season, the Johnnies are back in the rankings at No. 20.

“I really didn’t like [our schedule] when we were losing because we didn’t have Da’Shena [Stevens] and Nadirah [McKenith] at times, so I think we took some losses early, which knocked us out of the Top 25.” Barnes Arico said. “If we keep going the way we’re going, I guess I’ll look back and say it really prepared us.”

The Johnnies moved to 12-2 since senior forward Da’Shena Stevens returned to the starting lineup following an offseason knee injury. The preseason All-Big East post player has averaged 10.6 points and 6.5 rebounds per game since her return.
“Da’Shena was out for four months. Who knew how she was going to come back?” Barnes Arico said. “That was a risk. We even talked about redshirting because we said, ‘how is this kid going to come back and give us anything during the Big East?’ Now here’s this kid coming back and averaging almost a double-double.”

Barnes Arico was honored before the game for her historic win at Rutgers last week when she passed Joe Mullaney Jr. as the winningest coach in St. John’s women’s history with 169 wins.

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