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By Paul Cipriano
In the end it was free throws and a clutch three-pointer that pushed the St. John's women's basketball team past Pittsburgh 72-55, in a physical, defensive battle at Carnesecca Arena Wednesday night.
Freshman guard Monique McLean buried a three-pointer from the corner with a little over six minutes to go to give St. John's (13-4, 3-1 Big East) a 54-46 lead. That bucket started a 20-7 run to end the game and send Pittsburgh home with their second conference loss of the season.
It was a run that junior forward Angela Clark (14 points) saw coming.
"I knew with her hitting that three that we were gonna go on a run," said the Red Storm's leading scorer. "It gave that little extra spark that we needed."
On a night when St. John's second-leading scorer, junior guard Kia Wright, was just 2-for-12 shooting (but 8-for-8 on free throws) it was McLean off the bench with a career-high 17 points, and Clark that led the way.
St. John's coach Kim Barnes Arico admitted her team was a bit "sluggish" offensively for most of the game but were bailed out by Pittsburgh (11-4, 2-2), which put the Red Storm in the bonus with over 14 minutes left in the second half. Pittsburgh coach Agnus Beranato thought the abundance of fouls against her team was a product of inexperience.
"I thought that it was huge," Beranato said of St. John's being in the bonus early in the second half. "We're playing with a lot of freshman and I don't know if they were a little nervous or we were a little over anxious but you have to learn."
After a first half that featured five lead changes, St. John's seemed to take control of the game at the start of the second, leading 36-31, with 15:58 to go and the ball in their possession. The Red Storm failed to extend the lead, however and the Panthers came right back when freshman guard Matty Brown hit her only three of the game, making it just a two-point game.
Pitt would take the lead with 8:56 to go at 45-44, but St. John's made that tenuous Panthers lead fade fast with their constant trips to the line.
The Red Storm went 26-for-30 from the foul line, both season highs for the Red Storm, which included a remarkable 20-for-20 in the second half. Barnes Arico also thought getting into the bonus early was a huge advantage for her team.
"We were shooting in the double bonus with like four or five minutes left to go," Barnes Arico said. "That made a huge difference down the end of the game. We can go down the line, everyone made big free throws down the end of the game and I think that says a lot about our depth."
Their depth was a big factor in the victory tonight. Aside from McLean, freshman guard Lisa Claxton gave St. John's a lift off the bench with her ability to break down the Pitt defense and find open teammates. Claxton scored all her points from the line going 6-for-6 to go along with her four assists in 24 minutes.
"The strength of our team is our depth," Barnes Arico said. "I think the players are starting to understand that on any night it could be someone else's night. Tonight Monique did a great job defensively as well as offensively. Lisa did the same thing. She controlled everything so well and distributed the ball so well. She just did a tremendous job for us."
Sophomore forward Tiina Sten (eight points) also provided some tough minutes inside to give Clark a break when she needed one. The Red Storm had a tough matchup against Pittsburgh's sophomore center and leading scorer Mercedes Walker, who is proficient at seizing position in the low post.
"She's a very good player," Clark said. "She's strong, she's big. She makes you fight for everything."
St. John's takes it 3-1 conference record, its best Big East start since the 1998-99 season, to Storrs, Conn. Saturday where they'll take on No. 7 Connecticut at 7 p.m.
©2006 Community Newspaper Group
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