GOING DANCING

Women win first Big East tourney since 1988, earn 8 seed in NCAA

St. John's is pumped to learn its the No. 8 seed during Monday's NCAA Selection Show Watch Party. (Photo: St. John's Athletic Communications)

St. John’s is pumped to learn its the No. 8 seed during Monday’s NCAA Selection Show Watch Party. (Photo: St. John’s Athletic Communications)

Dylan Hornik, Staff Writer

As the clock struck 7 p.m. on Monday night, the hundreds of St. John’s students, family, friends, alumni, and student-athletes waited with bated breath as the NCAA Women’s Basketball tournament field of 64 was revealed.

The anxiety turned to relief and joy as the women’s basketball team found out that they were seeded eighth in the Dallas region. They will face ninth-seeded Auburn in Waco, Texas at 7:30 p.m. Friday night. A win would secure a second-round matchup with Baylor, the top seed in the region, who plays 16th-seeded Idaho in the first round.

The university held an energetic viewing party that had the same aura that the Red Storm has during its games. The Big East championship trophy was on display for the student body to see, along with the well-worn net that Head Coach Joe Tartamella got to cut down in Chicago last weekend. Deafening shouts of elation erupted when the impending matchup flashed across the screen on ESPN, followed by a live cut to the celebration headed up by the team in the D’Angelo Center.

After the initial euphoria wore off, coach Tartamella and the rest of the team got down to business, stating their focus and dissecting what they know about a team that they’ve played twice in the last three seasons, including a 56-49 victory early last season that kept the Red Storm undefeated. Tartamella said he hopes that the team can use the momentum from their conference championship in their favor going forward.

Tartamella said that facing the Tigers last season is a good starting point, but the two teams are hardly the same. While Auburn returned of their 11 from last season, St. John’s had four graduates or transfers leave from a team that made the NIT Sweet 16 last season. The result has been a deeper, more prepared team that looks like it could make a serious run if it could get past Auburn and Baylor.

The players are certainly up to the challenge. Aliyyah Handford said that the team has “a little more energy and confidence” after winning the Big East title and her classmate Danaejah Grant was not shy about flaunting it. “We’re not scared to play anyone,” Grant said. “At the end of the day, we put our pants on the same way,” clearly referencing the potential of a second-round showdown with one-loss Baylor.

Tartamella was more reserved about his team’s fate. “You’ve got to do the best you can to win your game,” he said. “Every team is good in the tournament, that’s the beauty of it.” He’s clearly not taking anything for granted as the head coach of a team that has never made it past the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament.

If there ever was a team to buck that trend, according to Tartamella, this would be it. “For what they’ve done as a senior class, they’ve accomplished more than many have expected,” he said. Tartamella also noted that a tournament run would be a great way to cap off the legacy that this senior class, including Grant and Handford, will leave behind.