Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports
After righting the ship with three straight conference wins following a lackluster start to the year, the Lady Johnnies dropped two in a row with the heart of the Big East schedule coming up.
Following a heartbreaking 60-57 loss to Syracuse yesterday on an improbable halfcourt buzzer-beater, year one for St. John's under new coach Joe Tartamella currently stands at 9-8 (3-2 Big East). The Red Storm dropped their second consecutive Big East contest just three days after coming up short on the road against second-ranked Notre Dame.
It hasn't been easy for the Lady Johnnies in the wake of having to replace Da'Shena Stevens, Eugeneia McPherson, AND head coach Kim Barnes Arico, but this year's St. John's team has played the role of survivor quite well while trying to navigate a 16-game Big East schedule that kicks into high gear next week.
St. John's returns to the court on Sunday for a road meeting with Louisville that starts a stretch of three games in seven days. The Cardinals will no doubt be looking to exact a measure of revenge from the last time Jeff Walz's team faced the Red Storm - a fierce overtime battle in the Big East Tournament that Shenneika Smith ultimately took over in the final minutes of regulation.
Smith guided St. John's past an upset-minded Louisville team with a refuse-to-lose attitude. This year, the Cardinals take the court for their rematch as the prohibitive favorites behind the Schimmel sisters, (Jude and Shoni, the Cardinals' leading scorer) as well as New Yorker and former Christ the King standout Bria Smith.
From there, St. John's remains on the road three days later to meet a Providence team that is currently 6-12 and still trying to find their way, even after picking up their first Big East win last night against Villanova.
The Red Storm have traditionally enjoyed favorable matchups against the Friars, and this year should be no exception despite the trip to Rhode Island.
After that, the Lady Johnnies return home for arguably the biggest game of their year, a February 2nd clash with UConn. Geno Auriemma's Lady Huskies will invade Carnesecca Arena for the first time since February 11th, 2009, carrying the bitter memory of St. John's ending their 99-game home winning streak last season, as St. John's emerged from Gampel Pavilion with a dramatic 57-56 victory that launched their run to the Sweet 16.
Even for all the struggles St. John's has endured, Tartamella is still receiving noteworthy contributions from junior Briana Brown and freshman Aliyyah Handford as supporting cast members to Smith and Nadirah McKenith. Newark native Handford, in particular, has taken her game to another level since stepping into the starting lineup and filling the void left by McPherson's torn ACL in mid-December.
The Red Storm are also yielding just 55 points per game on defense, while limiting their opponents to a 36 percent shooting clip from the field. On paper, the stats and the talent are there for St. John's to make another run. It all starts again this Sunday at Louisville.