By Marc Raimondi
The St. John's women's basketball team gave No. 6 Rutgers all it could handle in a 58-50 loss Saturday night at the Louis Brown Athletic Center. But the sixth-year coach has grown tired of coming just close to beating a top-10 team like the Scarlet Knights.”We kind of let up late and that's when they took advantage of us, but I think it was a positive step,” she said. “We hate to keep saying it was a positive step. We'd like to get one of these, but we played them tough.”The Red Storm certainly did in their Big East opener. They led throughout the first half, until a late Scarlet Knights run, and stayed close after halftime, at one point cutting the lead to 1. St. John's (9-5, 0-1 Big East) hit 8-of-19 three-pointers and played phenomenal defense down low on Kia Vaughn and Rashidat Junaid of Rutgers (11-2, 1-0).Vaughn, a preseason All-Big East selection, was held to four points on 2-of-7 shooting and Junaid had eight points on 3-of-8 shooting, courtesy of staunch defense by Tiina Sten, Coco Hart, Recee Mitchell and Joy McCorvey.”I thought our post players did a tremendous job on their inside kids,” Barnes Arico said.Monique McLean led the Red Storm with 13 points, Christ the King HS grad Sky Lindsay had 11 and fifth-year senior point guard Kia Wright had nine points and nine assists for the Red Storm, who are 3-30 against the Scarlet Knights all time. This one, though, marked progress and a strong building block for the rest of the conference season.”I think we competed with them and held our own,” McLean said, “which means we can play with teams like this.” One of the biggest keys going forward is Wright. She has played injured the past two seasons and this past summer she was diagnosed with a degenerative pubic bone. The Copiague, L.I., native took a cortisone shot before the season and will stick it out in her last season at St. John's.Wright gave the Red Storm a big lift in a 97-56 win over Morgan State on Dec. 30. She had 26 points on 9-of-12 shooting – including 6-of-6 from three-point range – with six assists in only 24 minutes. Barnes Arico will desperately need her, despite her diminished health, if St. John's is to compete in the Big East.”It was good for our team,” Barnes Arico said of Wright's break-out performance. “It really helped us.”Both of those games showed the potential the Red Storm has – especially beyond the arc. St. John's had a school-record 14 threes against Morgan State on only 24 attempts. Though her team was in it until the end against Rutgers, Barnes Arico thought the final minutes, when her young team got “a little tight,” was crucial.”The more we're in that situation,” the coach said, “the more comfortable we'll become.”Reach Associate Sports Editor Marc Raimondi by e-mail at email@example.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 130.