It took four trains and sixty-odd dollars, but here we are at Yale for the first game of the Red Storm's season, as St. John's visits Yale.
Payne Whitney Gymnasium is one of the most beautiful facilities I've ever had the privilege of visiting. It looks like a cathedral. We actually almost passed it because we thought it was the campus chapel, but no, it is just an exquisite piece of architecture... with automatic doors. In old-fashioned style, the actual place where games occur is the John J. Lee Amphitheater within the building. It has high-back seats that demand proper posture, wooden seats that remind me of my elementary school auditorium. The windows are tall and narrow, like church windows. Most of the seats are elevated away from the court, so if something happens in front of the opposite bench, for example, I won't be able to see if from where I am behind the St. John's bench. This is the facility for basketball, volleyball, and gymnastics, and they have banners for each of those sports, one in each corner. It's been a while since women's basketball was even remotely relevant.
Yale has a pleasantly loud fan base- not necessarily large, but a solid mid-major fan base, and they care about their team. I'll give them that.
It was a slow start for St. John's, but when the game was tied at 17 we cam up with a 10-0 run to create a cushion. It's 31-21 at the half. Danaejah Grant leads the way with 16 points. Part of the challenge has been integrating the young players, and that's led to a fair amount of hesitation both for the frosh and the upperclassmen.
Kyra Dunn, I'm going to need you to pull your shorts down. Honestly. I shouldn't be aware that you have a tattoo that high up on your left leg, because that part of your leg should be covered by your shorts.
"The dead shall be raised"? What is wrong with you, New Haven? Why would you ever think that was an appropriate thing to put on the gate to a cemetery? Who raised the funds for that gate, Alester Crowley? (Yes, I know the real story behind it, because I'm a giant dork and I looked it up on Wikipedia, but these were the thoughts that passed through my head on the walk to the campus.)
So. Johnnies in reserve. They've still got a little adjusting to do. Most of them are freshmen, which is understandable. I like Kyra Dunn's shot-blocking, but if she's going to back off plays and not hold on to the ball and not rebound, we are not going to be friends. I think Coach agreed with my frustrations, since she didn't play at all in the second half. Tonoia Wade went in very briefly and did nothing of note, except that she was either wearing false eyelashes or has spectacular real ones, and I'd be concerned about a player who wore such long ones on the court if they're fake. Crystal Simmons was unremarkable, though I worry a little if her shooting motion today was what her shooting motion is actually like, as opposed to what happens when there's ridiculous amounts of contact being allowed and she pulls up lame. (The two aren't fully connected, and might not be at all. My brain is a little fuzzy.) She went off hobbling, but I think she's going to be okay. Tamesha Alexander was solid at the point, more defensive-minded than offensive-minded. The freshman who impressed me most out of our class was Imani Littleton. She committed some truly spectacular blunders (a pass smacking off her hands, having the ball plucked from her hands on a rebound), but she was great on the boards and looked aggressive offensively, which was a big deal given how tentative the offense was much of the time.
Aaliyah Lewis is growing on me. Now, if she could just grow a little bit, period, she would be fabulous. I don't think I ever noticed before how good her body control is- she was able to prevent herself from moving on catches that might have forced an extra step from other guards. She got bounced around like a pinball trying to run through Yale's screens. Give Tiny Aaliyah a break, would you, universe? Jade Walker already has a propensity to commit bad fouls. We know this; she still thinks defense is played with the hands and the body, not the feet. But she also has an unfortunate tendency to draw calls whenever there's a stoppage, whether she merits them or not. She threw up a lot of bad shots, including one where she had been dancing around in the backcourt as if she were Aliyyah Handford instead of Jade Walker, after which she was summoned to the bench for a teaching moment. She was a big part of the second-half answer to the Yale run, and we needed her to be big, and I think she can be a major player for us if she can stay on the court. Amber Thompson needs to go up strong instead of backing out, and she needs to hit her shots. These are all complaints I've made about her before, and I guess I shouldn't expect her to change from her freshman year in that regard, though I certain can hope she does. That being said, she was great on the boards and altered a lot of shots. Part of why I hope Jade and Imani develop is that it would free up Amber to be more of a defensive presence and we wouldn't have to rely on her for offense. Aliyyah Handford missed some makeable jumpers in the first half, and the Yale defense was all over her, but she seemed to find her stride in the second half. She played the passing lanes aggressively. And then there was Danaejah Grant, who was starting to look pretty tired by the end of the game, if only because she was carrying the team on her back. She went to the basket. She hit jumpers. She capped the scoring with a three, which was good, since I was almost out of room for two-point baskets. I wish she could get her free throws down, but that's the eternal complaint about this team that I love.
Yale rotated their bench pretty frequently, often bringing in two or three players at a time. Jen Berkowitz pulled down some good rebounds. Tamara Simpson drove to the basket nicely, though I thought she traveled on most of her drives. The other bench players were not memorable.
Sarah Halejian has a lot of heart and a nice jumper. She was the star of the show for Yale, both as a scorer and a leader. Meredith Boardman has a brilliant last name for a rebounder, and also showed a little range from the outside. Katie Werner seemed integral to Yale's second half surges, but I might just be crazy at this point. Meghan McIntyre popped a couple of threes in the first half.
The officiating in this game was extremely frustrating. If you're going to call a game in a certain way, that's fine. But call it on both ends. The same call, if it's a charge at one end, should be a charge on the other. If it's a shooting foul on one end, it should be a shooting foul on the other end. It seemed very unbalanced from where I was sitting, and I thought Joe was going to lose his cool at one point- except by the time he had reached that stage, it was too close for him to risk the technical free throws. It was very frustrating.
There's a lot of potential for St. John's, but I think it'll be a rougher year than we expected.