Close, but Conn-ed again

For just over 30 minutes of play, it appeared that a St. John’s-Connecticut women’s basketball game could end differently then it had the previous 21 times: with a St. John’s win.


But No. 7 UConn held the Red Storm to just two points over the game’s final 10 minutes and ended St. John’s four-game winning streak with a 70-53 conference victory in front of 9,918 fans at Gampel Pavilion on Saturday night.


“I think we got tired and mentally we got worn down,” St. John’s coach Kim Barnes Arico said. “They came down and made baskets when we had missed great opportunities.”


UConn (15-2, 5-0) raised its level of play to one St. John’s (13-3, 3-2) could not match.


A layup by junior Danielle Chambers cut the Huskies lead to a slim 53-51 with 10:42 remaining. Connecticut responded with a 17-2 run to close out the game and held St. John’s scoreless over the last 7:11. Sophomore forward Charde Houston dominated inside and scored eight straight points, half of her team-leading 16, during the game-changing run.


“We just said to ourselves, ‘What are we doing?'” Connecticut senior Willnett Crockett said. “Eventually, you look at the scoreboard and you realize that we’re not playing like we should have played and we all looked at each other collectively decided to pick it up, and that’s what we did.” 


St. John’s has beaten two ranked teams, Boston College and Notre Dame, during Barnes Arico’s four seasons at the school. Though the game finished as another double-digit loss to the Huskies it was a vivid reminder of the level of play the program has attained


“We feel like we are not far off,” she said. “You don’t have to be perfect, but we just have to keep on working and keep on improving.”


St. John’s was led by Angela Clark’s game-high 19 points on 7-of-11 shooting and a perfect 5-for-5 from the free-throw line. It is the 13th time in 15 games the 6-foot-1 has scored in double figures.


“She has really stepped up against the best competition in the country,” Barnes Arico said. “Once again tonight she was able to score against some of the top defenders in the country.”


It just wasn’t quite enough.


The loss though is the closest St. John’s has come to beating Connecticut since a 71-59 loss on Feb 3, 1993, which started the current streak. Connecticut beat them handily 60-32 last January at Carnesecca Area.


“We knew they were a good team,” said UConn senior Barbara Turner, who finished with 14 points. “I don’t think we underestimated them at all. It was just a fight. It was one of those games. We’re not going to win every game by 30 and tonight was a great example of that.”


The Red Storm jumped out to an early 13-7 lead on two free throws by Clark with 14:24 remaining in the first half. Then Brittany Hunter and Crockett came off the bench to help UConn pull ahead 33-22 with 3:22 left in the half. Hunter scored all eight points in just 10 minutes of action in the opening period, while Crockett helped them control boards by grabbing six rebounds. Connecticut out-rebounded St. John’s 43-40 and forced them into 23 turnovers.


Even so, the Red Storm found themselves down just 45-38 after going on a short 6-
2 run to end the half. They cut the led to 50-49 on two free throws by freshman Lisa Claxton at
11:11 left in the game. But other then Clark and junior guard Kia Wright (12 points) St. John’s did not have a third consistent scorer. Freshman Monique McLean, who had 13 points against Notre Dame on Jan. 4 and 17 versus Pittsburgh on Wednesday, was held scoreless.


“UConn is a different level,” Barnes Arico said. “I think the pressure really got to the freshmen.”


While St. John’s remains winless against Connecticut in its last 22 games, Barnes Arico hints the change that seemed attainable for most of this contest may not be too far away.


“Maybe if we get them at a neutral court,” she said, “you never know what could happen.”