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Improved bench key to SJU reaching goals

By Joseph Staszewski

The key to St. John’s season isn’t its star players, but the rest of its roster.

That group and its numerous underclassmen continue to show growth as the Red Storm women’s basketball team heads into Big East play with their eyes on a conference title and an NCAA tournament berth that eluded it last year. There is no reason to think that won’t get there.

“They are coming along and giving us the best efforts they can,” senior guard Danaejah Grant said. “As they continue to get more experience on the floor, they will be really good.”

She and backcourt mate Aaliyah Lewis have been as close to givens as you can ask for during a 9-2 start, outside a loss to Duquesne. The duo is averaging around 19 points and five rebounds per game each. Forward Jade Walker has also stepped up with Sandra Udobi day to day with a back injury to the tune of 12.2 points and 5.6 rebounds a contest.

But there have been smaller contributions that mean even bigger things. That was evident in a win over Fairfield that closed out St. John’s non-league slate. Sophomore Imani Littleton, a 6-foot-3 forward, has taken steps forward after a quiet first season. She is starting in place of Udobi, scoring a little bit more, but more importantly averaging just over four rebounds per game. Littleton had eight boards against the Stags.

Three-point shooting still isn’t St. John’s strong point, but it has improved in that area with Crystal Simmons slowly gaining confidence and the addition of Akina Wellere, who is a threat from behind the arc.

“Being able to watch Crystal and Imani is great,” St. John’s Coach Joe Tartamella said. “They have both been giving us great moments this year. Last year we didn’t have a ton on our bench and I feel very comfortable with our entire roster this year.”

Though its a cliché, it will take everyone to bring home a Big East title and earn St. Jophn’s its sixth NCAA tournament berth in seven years. As good as Handford and Grant are, they have been unable to do it alone. St. John’s lost in the conference final two years ago and in the semifinals last season. A deep supporting cast is there for them to develop and they know it.

“They are coming along and giving us the best efforts they can,” Grant said. “As they continue to get more experience on the floor, they will be really good.”

They have been good enough so far. Being better will mean great things for St. John’s.

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