Just the Facts, Ma'am: Strong second-half play from the Red Storm gave St. John's the 72-64 win over the Cardinals of Louisville. Eugeneia McPherson led St. John's with 16 points, while Louisville's Becky Burke led all scorers with 19 points, including five-of-eight three-point shooting.
For rowdy road fans, snazzy duds, the critical importance of early conference games, and inexplicable decisions, join your intrepid and psyched up blogger after the jump.
Sometimes you need a game for the entire season. Sometimes that game is in March, conference tournament time, everything on the line, win or go home. Sometimes that game is in February, the frenzy rising, the sharks scenting blood, big conference games mixed in with the biggest out of conference games.
Sometimes that game is in January, the second game of a new year, a game on national television against a team in the top fifteen of the polls that's down two key players and needs to make a statement just as much as your team does. Sometimes the bell rings early and the springboard is longer than you realize.
Louisville brought a large fan contingent- or more precisely, Bria Smith brought a large fan contingent. Am I the only one who thinks it's really tacky to start chanting "DE-FENSE!" at a true road game? Neutral site is one thing, but to go into someone else's house and get the defense chants going, or disconcerting the shooter... that's uncouth. They shut up pretty quickly after Smith fouled out, though.
Even if you didn't have a roster, and even if Louisville didn't have names on their jerseys, you'd be able to tell that Jude Schimmel is Shoni Schimmel's little sister. They look a fair bit alike, but also move very similarly on the floor. I hesitate to say that they play similarly, because Jude doesn't look to be quite as good, but they look like they had all the same influences. (Which, yes, I know, but it's one thing to know and another to see.) Cierra Warren brought size off the bench and a nice bit of touch in the second half. She also brought some of the most hilarious offended indignation I've ever seen. Clearly she transferred to Louisville for the drama classes, because North Carolina didn't offer sufficient acting courses. Shelby Harper saw time late, in what I like to refer to as "throw spaghetti at the wall" time, when Louisville was getting ready to start firing threes. She tried to bother our offense. It was cute, in a way. Antonita Slaughter seemed to think she was a three-point shooter. Either her shot was really off today or she's really, really not. (Is she any relation to Gwen Slaughter?) For some reason I expected more from Sara Hammond, but she's young and she only played briefly. Shawnta' Dyer got a lot of minutes off the bench, but she made very little impression on me. I think she was one of those players who got all up in Da'Shena Stevens's face and edged around foul trouble.
Bria Smith fears nothing. I think the strong support from friends, family, and miscellaneous people with signs behind the bench bolstered her. She was red hot in the early going, and I feared the worst case scenario (for this fantasy player, it was Louisville winning with someone other than Schimmel the elder being the big gamer). In the second half, she ran into foul trouble- literally, being called for charges when she drove the lane. She's damn good for a freshman- damn good for anybody, but the idea that she's just a freshman is mind-boggling. Becky Burke's stroke is still amazing. She's got such a quick release. I'm not sure what she was thinking driving in the last minute or two, though. If they're not guarding you on the outside, and you're that good a shooter, and you're down that much, and the officiating hasn't been helping you, why would you drive instead of taking the three? Sheronne Vails started, but wasn't impressive; from what I've read from Louisville fans, it sounds like they were playing musical starters again. Asia Taylor was also a non-factor, with the bonus of not being able to hit a shot. Again, this might be a matter of musical starters. Shoni Schimmel has all the tools to be the best point guard in the country- by her senior year. Right now she's still raw, still wild, and still not as good in her judgment as she should be. But she's only a sophomore, and she has good court vision, and she's amazing when she cuts into the lane. She's slick, and she's fun to watch. When she matures, she's going to be very special... and by then Bria Smith will be a junior. That's a scary thought as a Big East fan.
This was not Tesia Harris's day. She looked like she was in well over her head. She was exploited defensively and inept offensively. Keylantra Langley hit one of her 'oh, hey, shot clock's running out, better hit a basket' shots, and her defense was solid, if not perfect. Mary Nwachukwu played well off the bench- she had someone to do the dirty work inside, freeing her up to look at the basket and put up the shots she's more comfortable with. She also boxed out well and did work on the offensive boards. This is what we're going to need from her going into the Big East season- a strong, reliable presence in the post to keep the pressure.
Amber Thompson looked like a freshman today- great hustle, good work going inside, but let a lot of stuff go through her hands and fumbled a lot of things that she's normally much better on. But it's sort of inevitable with freshmen. Shenneika Smith was solid, and her defense was on point. (All due respect to her, but c'mon, ESPN, she wasn't even close to being the star of the game. Why did you decide to interview her? Did you already have the story written?) Nadirah McKenith ran an excellent offense- every time Louisville made a run, St. John's had an answer, and she was part of why. She found the right person at the right time. Sometimes that person was herself. She helped shut down Schimmel, too. Eugeneia McPherson looked good, going to the lane and also hitting threes. If she can get a consistent outside shot going... we're going to be lethal. It's so good to see Da'Shena Stevens on the floor, and she's been battling so much that it hurts to see how much she's probably hurting. She got into a lot of grappling with the Louisville posts.
There were two calls that had Kim Barnes Arico about ready to go off on a ref, one where the refs missed a shot hitting the rim and refused to reset the clock, another where Da'Shena got hit in the face with no call. After she gave them several pieces of her mind, the officiating started to lean more towards St. John's. Overall, it wasn't bad- they let 'em play in the first half, less so in the second. When both teams are in the bonus with nine minutes left in the game, you might have a tightly called physical game.
I was disappointed in the turnout by St. John's. Look, guys, we're getting nationally ranked teams in here, we're on national television, would it be so much to ask that we make the place look a little less like a high school gym?
Dear dance team: can I have your jacket in an XL? Because it is awesome with the airbrushing and the sparkly logo.
We stuck around for the post-game autograph session, both because we both needed something for our cubicles and because we wanted to wish the team well. A lot of kids stuck around for that. Gee. I wonder why.
This was the crucial game for us. If we hadn't gotten this, I'm not sure any of the other games would have mattered for a chance at the tournament. But this was a big game, and a big win, and now I'm not sure what Louisville's going to do. I'm not sure if Louisville's sure what Louisville's going to do.