Storm weathered by surging Mountaineers

HARTFORD – Since coach Kim Barnes Arico arrived at St. John’s four years ago her team has seemingly always been the underdog. After earning a first-round bye, the fourth-seeded Red Storm found itself in a very different position during its Big East quarterfinal game – it was the one being upset, as twelfth seeded West Virginia knocked off St. John’s 55-49 on March 5 at the Hartford Civic Center.

“We’ve always been trying to prove something,” Barnes Arico said. “We’ve always been fighting to earn respect. But the kids have never been in a position where they’re expected to win and I think they came out and they were real tight.”

Except for a 9-2 run early in the second half, St. John’s seemed out of sync on both ends of the floor for most of the game.

The Mountaineers’ size and defensive intensity held the Red Storm to just 30.8 percent from the field for the game. St. John’s 49 points was its lowest scoring output all season.

West Virginia shot 52.2 percent from the field in the second half and outscored the Red Storm 28-14 in the paint.

There were signs of a possibly less-than-typical performance prior to the game.

“Yesterday at practice we were just in disarray and I think it was probably the worst practice of the year,” Barnes Arico said.

Even so, St. John’s had a 33-23 lead with 15:57 left. But West Virginia responded with a 17-8 run during which the Red Storm made two key mental errors on a pair of three-pointers by LaQuita Owens.

The sophomore guard had a wide open look on her first three at 10:13 in the second half when freshman Monique McLean decided to double team the post.

The Red Storm again failed to get a hand in Owens’ face on the second of the two which brought West Virginia to with in 41-40 with 6:50 remaining.

“We had huge let-ups when they came back from the 10-point lead,” said guard Kia Wright, who scored a game-high 14 points. “Coach gets on us all the time in practice, we’re there (on defense) but we don’t have our hand up.”

The lead changed five times in the final minutes, but West Virginia executed better down the stretch to secure the win.

Chakhia Cole hit a jumper from the free-throw line that put the Mountaineers up for good at 50-49 with 1:46 left. The sophomore guard later hit two free throws after collecting an important offensive rebound. Cole and Owens led West Virginia with 13 points each.

“Something inside of me just clicked and I had to get it done somehow,” Cole said. “We all came together and that was a great feeling.”

Not for St. John’s.

“They played like it was their last game,” Wright said. “Unfortunately it was ours…we just handed it to them.”