Women clinch Big East berth in loss

After the St. John’s men scored just 10 points in the first half against Duke, Norm Roberts cited the “basketball gods” for the lack of points. Evidently, those gods have an affinity for the women’s team, as they backed their way into the Big East tournament despite losing their last three games of the regular season.

“Getting to the tournament is getting to the tournament,” said coach Kim Barnes Arico when asked about “backing into” the postseason.

The Red Storm (8-19 overall, 4-12 Big East), who will face Louisville in the first round at Hartford, Conn., benefited from Providence, Georgetown, and Syracuse all losing their final games of the season. Had any one of those teams won, St. John’s would have been ousted from the tournament after their loss to No. 19 Marquette on Monday.

St. John’s, who shot poorly from the field for the majority of the game, found themselves down by 14 at the half. Marquette (24-5 overall, 12-4 Big East) continued their onslaught in the second half, going up by 18 points with 5:51 to play. After a timeout, the Johnnies bore down and began chipping away at the deficit, cutting Marquette’s lead to just nine with 2:22 to play. That’s as close as St. John’s would get, however, as the Red Storm missed vital three-point attempts and Marquette was proficient from the foul line.

“I thought we played incredibly hard the last 10 minutes of the game,” Barnes Arico said. “Marquette is a great team. We couldn’t get any shots to fall.”

Kia Wight, St. John’s star guard who recently announced she will be returning for her final season of eligibility in 2007-2008 after struggling with injuries this season, put forth a gutsy effort, recording 23 points and three assists while shooting 40 percent from beyond the arc.

“Kia Wright showed what kind of player she is and, I think, [she is] one of the best guards in the country,” Barnes Arico said.

“She hasn’t done that much this year because she’s been battling injury. Tonight she stepped up and showed what kind of player she’s capable of being.”

The Red Storm has been hampered by injuries, and as a result there are few players who have any postseason experience.

Barnes Arico believes that the experience afforded by postseason play will be invaluable for the younger players.

“We only have three kids that have had an opportunity to be in the tournament last year,” Barnes Arico said. “For us to be there, I think it will be great even with the inexperience we have. It gives us a chance to go out there and say ‘we’re not as bad as our record is.'”

Despite St. John’s just barely advancing to the postseason, the team is nonetheless looking to make an impact. West Virginia, whose 2005-2006 team serves as an inspiration for all fringe teams, made it to the Big East final last season with just five conference wins as the last seed.

“When we play the way we did tonight it gives us the opportunity to compete with most teams,” Barnes Arico said.