By Stephen Zitolo
The St. John’s women’s basketball team hung right with national power Connecticut for a half before the Huskies’ depth and size became too much to overcome.
The Red Storm ultimately fell 70-54 to No. 2 Connecticut in the main event of the Maggie Dixon Classic last Sunday at Madison Square Garden. St. John’s (12-2) trailed just 38-31 at the break. It was a strong showing for a program that’s made five straight NCAA tournaments.
“We did a great job of executing some of the things we were trying to do against a tremendous team with some great players,” St. John’s head coach Joe Tartamella said. “I thought our kids fought real hard throughout the entire game, so I’m very proud from that standpoint. We were relentless on both ends of the court and that’s what we’ve been talking about doing all year. I thought we showed that to the country today.”
St. John’s had a strong day on the defensive side of the ball as it held UConn (12-1) to its lowest point total of the season and got only narrowly out-rebounded, 41-37, by a much larger Huskies front line.
On the offensive side of the ball, UConn’s size in the frontcourt was too much for the Red Storm to overcome. The length of UConn hampered St. John’s ability to attack the basket. It had to settle for too many jump shots. St. John’s only shot 37 percent from the field.
When St. John’s tried to attack the basket its shots were swatted away by junior Breanna Stewart and senior Kiah Stokes, who combined for eight blocks.
Aliyyah Handford paced the Red Storm with 20 points and eight rebounds and Danaejah Grant added 13 points. Senior forward Amber Thompson grabbed eight rebounds to extend her St. John’s all-time rebounding record to 883. Thompson surpassed the record on Jan. 2 in a key victory over No. 23 Seton Hall.
Stewart had 18 points and 11 rebounds and redshirt sophomore forward Morgan Tuck had a game-high 23 points for UConn. Junior guard Moriah Jefferson had 16 points.
In the first half, St. John’s was able to stay with the defending national champions as it won the battle on the boards, 22-18, and scored nine points off of UConn’s four turnovers.
In the second half, UConn came out and gave St. John’s a tough time. The Huskies went on a 13-2 run right out of the break and the Red Storm were never really able to get back into the game after that.
“I think they capitalized on our turnovers,” junior guard Aliyyah Handford said. “We also helped them by coming down and shooting after one pass. That’s what they wanted us to do and it helped them get on a run.”