Ladies come a knoxing, will play USC on Saturday

The St. John’s women’s basketball team found out Monday night that its ticket had been punched to the NCAA Tournament as the No. 8 seed in the Louisville region, where they will be taking on the No. 9 seed USC Trojans in Knoxville, Tennessee.

St. John’s selection to the Tournament marks its fifth-straight at-large bid and the ninth tournament selection in program history.

“We continue to rewrite history,” St. John’s head coach Joe Tartamella said. “Going there two years in a row as a head coach is obviously exciting, but also for our program, five years in a row is such a great testament to the players that have come through here and the coaches and staffs that have guided them. This is something that has been our goal all year, so we’re excited to get back in there and face USC.”

The Trojans (22-12, 11-7 Pac-12) earned an automatic bid in this year’s tournament, the program’s 16th all-time, as they won the program’s first Pac-12 tournament championship. USC iscoming into the tournament riding a six-game winning streak and three-straight upset victories over Arizona State, No. 6 Stanford and Oregon State. Junior guard Ariya Cook averaging 15.8 points and senior forward Cassie Herbert’s averaging 15.6 points and 7.4 rebounds led the Trojans this season.

“I would have never guessed that I would be going to my fifth NCAA Tournament,” redshirt senior guard Eugeneia McPherson said. “I was excited to be a part of the group that made it four years in a row but to make it five times in a row is extremely exciting for myself, my team and my coaching staff.”

The Red Storm (22-10, 13-5 Big East) finished a regular season that saw them win 11 straight Big East games  only to suffer losses in four of their final five conference games to finish the regular season second in the Big East behind the only other conference team to make the dance, DePaul. St. John’s had an impressive Big East tournament run, led by sophomore guard and All-Tournament selection Aliyyah Handford, who averaged 18.7 points, 5.3 rebounds and 3.3 steals, to only fall to DePaul in the Big East tournament championship. For her performance in the regular season, Handford was selected to the All-Big East First Team.  Eugenia McPherson was awarded 2013-14 Big East Sportsmanship Award; freshman Jade Walker was chosen to the league’s All-Freshman Team and junior Amber Thompson was selected as a Big East Honorable Mention.

“We’ve definitely had some ups and definitely had some downs,” senior guard Briana Brown said. “I’m just happy that everyone is healthy and coming together. We have our whole team here and we want to show people what we can really do.”

“I think we have a lot of pieces, like everybody in the tournament,” Tartamella said. “When we’ve been successful we’ve defended very well. If we can do that we have the ability to possibly make a run.”

St. John’s and USC will have their first ever matchup on March 22 to determine who moves on to the round of 32.