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By Joseph Staszewski

Aaliyah Lewis can’t be taken for granted any longer.

Opposing defenses dared the St. John’s junior guard to beat them with jump shots after she was named a starter last season. Defenders would leave her alone to pay more attention to more dangerous threats like Aliyyah Handford and Danaejah Grant.

Coming from scoring 12 points a game in high school at Bishop Ford and capable of 20-point nights, Lewis didn’t take kindly to how she was viewed by the opposition.

“Basically, people were just disrespecting me and leaving me open,” Lewis said. “I just had to stop that and work on my game and let people know that I can shoot and get some respect.”

She did something about it in the offseason, spending countless hours in the gym with the shooting machine and recreating scoring situations. Lewis is finally seeing the fruits of her labor.

The 5-foot-5 point guard is averaging 7.7 points per game, up from 6.0 last season. She has two more points than a year ago in seven fewer games. Lewis is enjoying proving people wrong.

“My confidence is totally sky high,” she said. “Coming into this season a lot of teams probably thought I would be the same player as I was last year.”

Some of her added aggressiveness comes from now being a veteran, but much of it just stems from seeing results. Lewis said she found her confidence with an 18-point peformance that helped the Red Storm beat Creighton on the road Dec. 29. She shot five of nine from the field, made two threes and was a perfect six-for-six at the free-throw line. It was a breakout game in her mind.

“I just saw the ball going through the net constantly,” Lewis said. “From there, I knew I could do it.”

Lewis continued her improved scoring by tallying a career-high 22 points in a win over rival Seton Hall on Feb. 7. She saw some of the team’s top players out with foul trouble in the first half and took it upon herself to pick up the slack.

You could see a changed mindset even in a home loss to Villanova, where Lewis managed just seven points to go along with five assists. Lewis took the Red Storm’s second shot, made her first two jumpers, including a three to end the first quarter and was aggressive attacking the basket. Red Storm coach Joe Tartamella said he has seen her shot selection improve along with a better understanding that they need her to be aggressive.

“I think she needs to continue to put pressure on the other teams, because they just leave her,” he said. “Her improvement has been spectacular since she has been a freshman here.”

Getting points from Lewis is a bonus to the strong play Tartamella has always gotten from her. She is the team’s leader in assists and has 109 helpers to 56 turnovers. Lewis and the Red Storm are in a battle for second place in the Big East and an NCAA tournament berth. She only sees the impact she has each game growing.

“My confidence is just going up now,” Lewis said. “When I get it and I am open I just know I am going to knock the jump shot down.”

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