Storrs, Conn. — The St. John’s women’s basketball team leftGampel Pavilion Saturday afternoon having played one half toremember and one to forget.
After fighting to be down only nine at half time to the No. 4ranked team in the country, the Red Storm (8-11, 2-6) could notrecover from a 16-6 Huskies run to start the second half,ultimately losing 82-49 before a sellout crowd of 10,167.
“I thought we stepped up to the challenge, especially in thefirst half,” St. John’s head coach Kim Barnes Arico said, “but weplayed a fantastic team in UConn and they were able to show theweakness we have as a team.”
One of the Storm’s biggest obstacles this season has been itslack of size, weaknesses that played an important role inSaturday’s loss. The Huskies (17-2, 7-1) out rebounded the RedStorm 56-30 and scored 23 second chance points and 30 points in thepaint.
Their overwhelming size advantage also allowed them to challengeshots and close up the lane in the second half, holding St. John’sto just 17 percent shooting, four field goals and only 14points.
“I really didn’t have good opportunities at an open look becauseof their length and size,” said graduate student guard Kim MacMillan, who, along with sophomore Danielle Chambers led SJU with 11points. “UConn does a great job guarding you close up.”
Added Connecticut’s Ashley Battle: “Nothing against St. John’sbut they’re 8-10 and we gave up 30 points [in the first half] tothem. We need to refocus from what we were doing in the first half,and come out in the second half on a mission.”
The Huskies, who played most of the game without All-AmericanDiana Taurasi, who sat with a minor back injury, were led by thesharp shooting of sophomore guard Ann Strother, who netted a careerhigh 27 points, which included seven three-pointers. Battle alsoadded 15 points and eight rebounds.
“It’s kind of weird … when you’re out there you feel like thebasket is huge and you can’t miss,” Strother said.
Her hot hand was the lone reason SJU could not get its earlylead larger than four. Strother hit five three-pointers in thefirst half, including one from the left corner over the hand of anoutstretched Dana Peterson, which cut a four point lead to one.
“We’ve been waiting a long time for a game like that with Ann,before you start to wonder, ‘Does she have it in her?'” Connecticutcoach Geno Auriemma said. “We had a lot of open shots, and Ann’swere the only ones going in.”
The Red Storm seemed to do everything right early on, evenholding the lead for much of the first stanza. SJU held the Huskiesto 38.5 percent shooting and quieted the usually raucous crowd ofblue and white.
“This is one of the reasons why I chose to go to a Big Eastschool,” said Shemika Stevens. “For myself, it was a greatopportunity to be able to play in front of a crowd of thissize.”
Stevens, who finished with 10 points, made play after play inthe first half, keeping the Red Storm in the game, including agorgeous drive late, which cut the Connecticut lead to one.
SJU also got a big lift of the bench from Chambers, who providedthe Red Storm with a presence in the paint, drawing numerous foulson Huskies defenders and getting to the free throw line withease.
After Stevens and Angie Clark hustled to force a jump ball earlyin the first half, Chambers banked home a lay-up while drawing afoul, cutting the Connecticut lead to two.
The Storm were forced to play most of the second half withoutfour time Big East Freshman of the Week, Clark, who left the gamewith a knee injury.
“That hurts us,” Barnes Arico said. “She does a good job for usinside and that really hurt us.”
SJU will now look to build off its competitive first half asthey face defending Big East champion Villanova tonight andProvidence on Friday at Alumni Hall in a game that could greatlyeffect the team’s chance at a Big East Tournament birth.
For the fourth straight game, Secrett Stubblefield, who issecond on the team in scoring (13.9 points per game) did not playdue to an ankle injury.
Strother: 27 pointsSt. John’s 49Connecticut 82
BREAKING IT DOWN: 2nd half sorrowsPOINTS: 14REBOUNDS: 11OFFENSIVE REBOUNDS: 1POINTS IN THE PAINT: 2FIELD GOALS: 4BENCH POINTS: 3LAST FG MADE: 7:08TURNOVERS: 13