By Joseph Staszewski
St. John’s still has some work to do.
A 71-59 home loss to Villanova last Friday means the Red Storm women’s basketball team will need a strong finish to the season to ensure a spot in the NCAA tournament after missing it last year.
SJU has split its last six games after bouncing back to beat Georgetown Sunday. It still controls its own destiny in the Big East standings. It sits a half-game ahead of Villanova for second place in a tight conference, which will likely earn at least three bids to the big dance. Xavier and Seton Hall are also just a game behind the Red Storm.
St. John’s (18-7, 9-5) has now lost twice to the Wildcats and regular season champion DePaul and has a game remaining with Xavier among its final four Big East contests. It owns the tie breaker over Seton Hall, but understands that its margin for error is slim.
“Right now, none,” said senior guard Danaejah Grant. “Basically none. It’s just important that we keep our heads in it, keep our eye on our goals for the post season.”
The Red Storm couldn’t overcome a hot-shooting Villanova team. The Wildcats made 11 of 24 three-pointers and connected at a 51.1 percent clip from the field. Nova made just five treys in a 58-54 win against St. John’s on Jan. 17. St. John’s coach Joe Tartamella said his team could have defended better, but it’s frustrating to see Nova connect even when they were.
“I thought Villanova played a great game and they hit their shots,” he said. “We held them at times and other times they made some tough shots.”
A three-point play from Grant tied the score at 40-40 at the 5:14 mark of the third quarter, but the Red Storm would never be that close again. St. John’s, which shot just two of nine from three-point range and were three-for-nine from the free-throw line, couldn’t string together enough stops to make a run after Nova went up 55-46 after three. The Wildcats scored 18 points off nine SJU turnovers.
Taramtella cited his team’s “inability to get multiple stops in a row,” as a factor in why it was hard for them to come back. “Even when we would score, they would answer,” he said.
The Red Storm appeared to be ready to erase its nine-point deficit at the start of the fourth quarter, but five straight Nova points, including a contested three by Louin, helped the Wildcats push the lead to 60-48 with 7:18 left in the game.
Against Georgetown, it was St. John’s that held off an oppsing surge after taking a 40-29 lead early in the second half. The Hoyas pulled within five on two occasions, getting as close as 59-55 with less than a minute to go. But the Red Storm didn’t let a key win slip away. Grant scored 22 points and 20 respectively in the two games. Handford had 17 and 13.
“It’s a tell-tale sign for a special team: having resilience, being able to come back after a loss,” Tartamella said. “It wasn’t perfect by any means; however, I thought we really had a will to win today that we had not had.”
They will need that will for the rest of rest of the season, too.