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St. John's women's wrapup: Surging Red Storm eye return to NCAA tourney

St. John's has turned around a 9-9 start with wins in six of their last seven.

Mike Stobe

Following a three-game losing streak that placed their record at 9-9, an NCAA Tournament appearance was arguably the last thing anyone could have associated with St. John's women's basketball this season.

Then the easier part of the Big East schedule vaulted coach Joe Tartamella's team right back into contention.

With a lone setback being a six-point defeat to UConn that showed the Lady Johnnies could still contend, the team has won five straight and six of their last seven. Now St. John's (15-10, 9-4) prepares for their final three Big East contests of the regular season. The first two come on the road against Seton Hall and Villanova before a Carnesecca Arena season finale Monday night against DePaul that could have an impact on seeding for next month's Big East tournament in Hartford.

With their 9-4 record in the Big East, St. John's currently sits a half-game behind Louisville for fourth place in the conference standings, a crucial position since the last of the four double byes into the tournament quarterfinals is awarded to the fourth-place team.

Last season, the Red Storm enjoyed the No. 2 seed under former coach Kim Barnes Arico in the Big East Tournament and outlasted the Cardinals in overtime before falling to UConn the next night.

Since the four teams ahead of St. John's (Notre Dame, UConn, Syracuse and Louisville) all own head-to-head victories over the Lady Johnnies, Tartamella's team may have to run the table to have a shot at a top four finish. What aids the Red Storm down the stretch is that Syracuse, presently the No. 3 seed, still has to play Notre Dame and Louisville to close out the season, two teams that could potentially knock the Orange out of the double-bye scenario.

Undefeated Notre Dame still has one more game with Geno Auriemma and Connecticut to end the season in what will most likely be a battle for the regular season championship on Monday night. Meanwhile, St. John's welcomes DePaul into Queens. The Blue Demons lead the series 4-2 series lead in, and the Red Storm have not defeated Doug Bruno's DePaul program at home in since January of 2007.

St. John's did not have a nonconference season to write home about, with close losses to schools such as Quinnipiac, UCLA and Delaware. However, the men's basketball team had a similar start to the season two years ago with shocking defeats at the hands of St. Bonaventure and Fordham prior to the start of Big East play. The Red Storm men had a senior guard with a refuse-to-lose mentality in Dwight Hardy the same way the women have two of their own this season in Shenneika Smith and Nadirah McKenith, not to mention the remarkable freshman season enjoyed by Aliyyah Handford as she continues to grow while replacing the injured Eugeneia McPherson.

With a hot streak this season that rivals the magical run the boys on campus enjoyed two years ago under Steve Lavin, the queens of Queens are drawing ever closer to a fourth consecutive appearance in the NCAA Tournament people have come to expect their participation in.