The St. John's women's basketball team trailed the mighty Huskies of Connecticut by just seven, 38-31, 1:40 into the second half. The 1,625 on hand, mostly UConn supporters, began to feel uneasy. The Red Storm appeared, just for a moment, to perhaps be on the verge of an upset of titanic proportions.
But then the Huskies awoke out of their first half slumber. The number one ranked team in the country picked up its defensive intensity and ran the floor with grace and ease. And, an 18-2 run later put UConn ahead 56-33 and dashed any thoughts of an upset, as Connecticut cruised to an 85-43 win at Alumni Hall Tuesday night.
"Against a great team like Connecticut, the same with Notre Dame, you have to play good basketball for 40 minutes," said St. John's head coach Darcel Estep. "Any time you slip, they're going to capitalize."
If there was ever a time to catch Connecticut (23-1, 12-0 Big East) sleeping, Tuesday was the night. The Huskies were coming off a hard-fought 49-45 win at No. 10 Rutgers on Saturday and were sloppy from the outset against St. John's.
Connecticut turned the ball over 12 times in the first half and shot just 39.4 percent (13-33) from the floor. In addition, UConn starting shooting guard Shea Ralph sprained her ankle late in the first half and was out for the remainder of the game.
But St. John's (8-15, 3-10) could not capitalize on its opportunity. The Red Storm also struggled from the field, shooting a paltry 26.7 percent (8-30) in the first half. Despite playing poorly, UConn had a 36-20 lead on a three pointer from the right wing by Christ the King grad Sue Bird with 1:33 to go in the first half.
The Red Storm played its best basketball in the final minute of the first half. Sophomore center Tynisha Myles drove the lane and was fouled by Paige Sauer. Myles completed the three-point play and followed with another layup. After two made free throws by Ana Pericic, the Red Storm went into the break down, 36-27.
"I've been saying all along, our team probably doesn't have the maturity level that matches our talent," said UConn head coach Geno Auriemma. "We really didn't approach our morning workout and this game with the same level of concentration we would like. And it shows up. We had a big lead and then we squandered it on a couple dumb fouls and mistakes on our end. The second half we didn't do any of that."
St. John's continued to play well at the start of the second half, cutting its deficit to seven, 38-31, on two free throws by Tanya Mrdjen. But that was as close as St. John's would get. Bird had a steal and a layup, Asjha Jones had a turnaround jumper in the lane and Kennira Johnson nailed a three from the left side. Bird's foul line jumper capped the Huskies 18-2 run that put them ahead 56-33 with 11:56 left.
Thirty four seconds later, Connecticut went on another run, 29-6, to close out the game. Swin Cash led UConn with 19 points and eight rebounds. Svetlana Abrosimova added 17 points, 11 rebounds, five steals and four assists. Kennitra Johnson had 15 points and five steals and in her return to Queens, Bird had 14 points, seven rebounds, four assists and four steals. Aiysha Smith was the lone scorer in double figures for St. John's with 11 points. The Red Storm return to the court Saturday at 2 p.m. to take on Villanova at Alumni Hall.
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