It says a lot about a team when they lose a star player for the remainder of a game. Who fills the void? Who does the work? Does anyone? That's the difference between winning and losing. That was the difference in this game.
This St. John's team has something that I don't think we've had in a very long time: intestinal fortitude (well, except for Da'Shena in the second half, the poor dear *offers Tamiflu*). Of course, we shouldn't be putting ourselves in a hole against freakin' Long Island, much as I like the Blackbirds, but that's been our habit. It's a bad habit, but I'd rather get the fail out of the way early and build it back up to win.
Before the game, the boy and I were approached by someone from St. John's and offered the VIP seats, which are in the front row, court level, facing the benches. It's something you have to do once, so we took our now-redundant seat cushions, our Johnny Thunderbird bobble-heads, our Jennifer Blanding posters (which were a source of minor lols, as sidelined center Victoria Hodges yelled up to us, "Who's on the poster?" and Not-the-Kia! had her moment in the sun), and our heavy winter coats, and hied ourselves downstairs, through the railing, and in front of the band to take our seats. It's an interesting experience, but not one I'm planning to repeat anytime soon. Damn refs kept getting in our way, and when they weren't in the way, it was the dancing girls. Stop shaking what you don't have and I don't want, I'm trying to figure out what Coach is saying in the huddle and why Da'Shena looks like she's about to cry. And my ears still hurt from the band.
I sort of hope Krystal Wells didn't remember us. That could have been awkward.
The anthem was really good this game- vocal performance. She should try out for Idol. GNoD approved!
LIU really didn't get that much from their bench. Wells ran a solid game from the point guard slot, but LIU opted to go with their starters for most of the way. I don't know if I would have done that. To their credit, they played a very disciplined game- 17 turnovers isn't too bad for a women's game, and they didn't get into foul trouble- so going deep into their bench wasn't a necessity. That all being said, I think I would have used Tamika Guz in a few more short spurts, because while she doesn't have a lot of stamina, she's very good in the few minutes she can play at a shot, and we had no answer for her size. (Well, we did, but more on that later.) I admit, I was looking forward to some of the matchups among the starters- but I was also looking forward to the Clash of the Epic Fail Titans, the Red Storm's Coco Hart and LIU's Justine Stevenson, and Stevenson didn't disappoint.
Lots of calf tattoos on LIU. I am intrigued. Some were really pretty tattoos, too.
The big matchup I was looking forward to was their undersized but scrappy frontcourt versus our undersized but scrappy frontcourt. Ashley Palmer and Chelsi Johnson didn't disappoint. Palmer did a great job cleaning up her teammates' garbage, and her threes are starting to fall with a little more regularity, which she'll need if she wants to go any further with her career after college. Johnson, who's one of my favorite collegiate players for just about every single reason that Joy McCorvey is, put on a show in both high and low post, and interposed herself early and often on defense. I think the critical thing that kept LIU from being able to come back in this game was our ability to keep Heidi Mothershead scoreless by keeping Shenneika on her and keeping the ball out of her hands. No long-range threat, no threat to come back. I think we also did a great job denying Kiara Evans the lanes she wanted- she's a drive and dish sort of guard, so if she can't drive, she can't dish quite as effectively. Connie James's shot wasn't falling, but being down on the floor allowed me to hear how vocal she is on the floor. I love players like that. She's such a critical part of what they do.
I'm not going to go so far as to say I owe Coco Hart an apology. She still tends to do incredibly stupid things and overdramatize calls she's never going to get. That being said, off the bench today she played possibly the best game I've ever seen from her. She went strong to the basket, she fought hard on the boards, she did work on defense- I was very satisfied with her. And we needed her to step up, with the limited number of posts we have on our roster, and with Jennifer being ineffective, and with Da'Shena looking like she needed a blankie and a teddy bear. Eugeneia was important during the comeback to take the lead, and on the defensive end. I worry about Kelly- either other teams have keyed on her as a spot-up shooter and forced her off her spots, or her misses early in the season have eroded her confidence and she's hesitating too long before she's willing to shoot. Whatever it is, she needs to get her head right or she's going to lose her minutes to Eugeneia because she's more versatile and to Buzz because no one will ever fault Amanda Burakoski for a lack of confidence or hustle. I might have used Jennifer against Guz for a spurt, just to muscle her up and open up space, but the team won by 14 with our star player sidelined for most of the second half, so hey, Kim Barnes Arico must be doing something right. ;)
Surprised not to see much of the press. I guess deGraffenreid running through it damaged their confidence in it.
Sky got us started in the right direction with early points, and she played a pretty solid game. Nothing really to protest about. Nadirah McKenith makes me happier every time I see her. She makes things happen on both sides of the ball. She had a couple of really nice steals, one of which resulted in a sweet bucket by Da'Shena. Shenneika got some shots to fall that had no business falling, but kept getting lost on defense. I think she's gotten used to relying on her length to be able to beat lesser opponents, and that's not going to work anymore. Da'Shena had a disjointed first half, alternating between great shots and unacceptable lapses, and then early in the second half she left the game and didn't come back. We freaked out a little when we realized that she wasn't on the bench, and when she came back she looked miserable. She spent the rest of the game huddled near the end of the bench, wrapped in her warm-up jacket and downing liquids like there was no tomorrow, looking for all the world like she should have had a hot-water bottle and a hefty dose of Nyquil. That led to the other two posts having to step up. Coco's already been mentioned, but Joy also ramped up her scoring in the second half. She was absolutely brilliant on the offensive glass- which was good, because no one was following their shot. She's been down this road before- I still remember the WNIT game against Iona where three freshmen, a sophomore, and a junior had to go the entire second half with no subs, and that's the game that endeared me to Joy. She does what her team needs to do, and she's willing to do it all even if her teammates aren't- there was one series where she was trying to get Sky to come around a screen and Sky went a different way. (I don't think we scored on that possession.)
I probably shouldn't comment about the refs, since I spent most of the night in close proximity to them. Not that many complaints, and most of the things I thought had been gotten away with were by St. John's. One of the guys made small talk with us during warm-ups, because yes, the arena was very cold. Official attendance was a tick over 400, and the arena really needed a few more warm bodies. Also, I'd never sat that close to a ref before, and I liked that the same guy reminded Sky of the shot clock during an inbounds. The boy claims it's standard, but it makes too much sense to be standard.
A couple of former St. John's players were in the house, though this wasn't exactly how I wanted to find out that Britney Murphy is now a former St. John's player. I thought I was going crazy when I thought I spotted Recee Mitchell (usually referred to as "six-foot-one of Texas badass" in the GNoD) in the upper deck, given that, well, this wasn't the first time I thought I saw her this season. I'd like to think that if I'm going to hallucinate post players, I'd imagine them in uniform, not wearing eye-searingly godawful neon things, but apparently she did really make it out. After Da'Shena had to bow out of the game, I was very tempted to see if they had #52 in storage and throw it up to Recee.
Also, Joy, I love you, you're one of my favorites, but you and Chelsi Johnson can't both be 6-0 if she's taller than you. It makes everything you do more incredible, but don't be lyin'.
Johnny Thunderbird, you throw like an injured four-year-old. If the game involves you throwing things that a contestant needs to catch, and the contestant can't cross the halfcourt line, it's unsporting to throw so weakly that the "burrito" doesn't cross the line.
Shoutout to St. Catherine of Siena's CYO team, including the girl in the Liberty t-shirt, #21 who swatted a wicked block, and #51 whose passing skills are pretty good.
I love my team. I may love them too much, though that doesn't keep me from kvetching about the horrible scheduling that put our next game opposite the Maggie Dixon Classic. Last season, even with Monique McLean, I don't think we make comebacks with the regularity that we have this season- this is a team that forged a tie at North Carolina in the last quarter of the game. We have a nice balance of upperclassman leadership and young talent. Now if we just had some more posts. Coco looked ready to fall over on the court at the end of that game.