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Guards power Storm

Just the Facts, Ma'am: Aliyyah Handford scored nine of her 15 points in the game's first five minutes, and Danaejah Grant had 14 of her 20 in the second half to bookend a 62-48 win over UCF. Aaliyah Lewis (12) and Jade Walker (11) also finished in doubles for the Red Storm. Aliyah Gregory led UCF with 19 points, 17 in the second half; Zykira Lewis added 15, 13 in the first half. For bookends, bad halfcourt shots, tiny guards, Brooklyn rage, exuberance, so many ways of spelling Aaliyah, fellow travelers, and freshman mistakes, join your intrepid and cold-nosed blogger after the jump.

Good evening! Well, if you have been subjected to the tender mercies of the MTA, you might not think it's such a good evening, but there's basketball to watch and good company to be had, so there are worse ways to spend an evening than at Carnesecca Arena to watch St. John's take on UCF. (I will let you know if Tari Phillips miraculously materializes.)

There has so far been no Tari, but there have been a slew of transit delays; only the fact that there were scoreboard issues that led to the game's start being delayed allowed me to get in in time for tip. And I know it was bad, because Amber's mom was just as late as I was, and Amber's mom takes games seriously.

So far the moment of the game is Zykira Lewis Parkouring her way up the wall and grabbing the railing after overrunning a defensive play. Other than that, it has not been a particularly pretty game. Aliyyah Handford had the first nine points and two quick fouls for St. John's, and it's been a trial by fire for the freshmen ever since. Aaliyah Lewis has nine points as well, including the last three of the half on a trio of free throws. Zykira Lewis has 13 for UCF.

I love my team, but we're playing like idiots tonight, we really are. Fortunately, having Danaejah Grant and Aliyyah Handford makes up for a lot of stupid mistakes.

UCF made a lot of subs, though I wonder if it's all relative- compared to St. John's, I imagine most people make a lot of substitutions. They're tall, long, and fast, but they lack a bit of finesse.

Yanique Gordon rebounded hard, with elbows out. Bryeasha Blair was mostly in situational free throw situations. Stephanie Taylor brought height and length that she used defensively. Jordan Jackson almost seemed to sneak into games, given that I think I only heard her name announced once. Andrea Hines crashed the lane hard for a guard of her size.

Fifi Ndour has nice instincts on the boards and handles the ball very well for a player of her height. Her shot needs a little work... a lot of work... but she's a freshman, this is what you expect from freshmen. Zykira Lewis was fast. I like her game. Plus, there's that whole parkour thing. At least I think it was her. I was still settling onto my bleacher when it happened, and I got the vague impression of a guard with a blonde streak in dark hair. Aliyah Gregory took over the offense in the second half, with her jumper falling and the occasional drive down the lane. She's another long, lean, tall player that UCF can build on if she continues to develop. Brittni Montgomery was tall and noticeable, but not statistical. I suspect she was boxing out. We ended up calling Erica Juarbe "Brooklyn Rage" for most of the game after she got into a mild disagreement with Danaejah Grant on a contested ball. I think I would like her ferocity if I were a UCF fan.

We saw a lot of the freshmen guard-type people with the foul trouble Aliyyah Handford dealt with. The results were mixed, to say the least. I like Tonoia Wade's approach on defense when she's playing it- like many a freshman before her, she's not always sure where she's supposed to be. And the makeup bothers me a little bit (or if she's not wearing makeup, someone hit a genetic lottery of some kind). Crystal Simmons played at both guard positions, missing her shots badly and looking lost on defense. Tamesha Alexander ran point for a short while, and I think I would have liked to see her be more assertive on offense in that time. Kyra Dunn pulled down rebounds! (instead of tapping all of them out) She's got to finish on the inside when she gets golden looks, though.

In general, we need the bench to step up. I know they're all newcomers, and in time they might be a cohesive unit, but they have to learn first.

Oh, Jade Walker. I think Jade is adorable, inasmuch as a broad-shouldered six-foot-tall woman can be adorable, but she's remarkable at getting into foul trouble. She commits stupid fouls, I will give the officials out, but sometimes I think they see her on the play and instantly assume she committed a foul, even if it was a clean play, even if it was a foul by a teammate. She stepped up on offense in the second half with long jumpers and a pretty finger roll off a lookaway pass from Danaejah Grant. Aaliyah Lewis ran the offense in the first half like she had left her brain in Tampa, throwing dumb passes into the long-armed coverage of the Knights' defense or throwing passes to places her teammates were not. On the flip side, it looked like a lot of people were out of position on offense; Jade and Danaejah each had a play where Aaliyah threw a pass where they were supposed to be, and they weren't. But tiny Aaliyah came up with big threes and drew two shooting fouls on three-point shots, plus a filthy crossover to get herself a clear lane for a lay-up. This game showcased one of her liabilities as a PG, though. Amber Thompson was not quite as ferocious as we've been used to her being, but she was still tough on the inside and seemed to get stronger as the game went on. Aliyyah Handford started off hot for St. John's, got in foul trouble, and was off and on throughout the second half thanks to more fouls. In a way, that's good; Liyyah needs all the rest she can get, since she's not going to get much of it from Coach. Danaejah Grant rebounded like a beast in the first half, then brought the offense along the baseline for the second half. We needed her.

I'm going to take a moment and marvel at the sheer joy Aliyyah plays with. She's got a sile on the court, and she's just as happy when she gets the sweet pass to her teammate for a basket as she is when she coes up with the basket herself. I can't believe I never noticed before. I hope she keeps on keeping on like that. (And also, on the topic of Aliyyah doing awesome things, she hit her 1,000th point tonight.)

The officiating was much more inconsistent than I would have expected from this crew. I've seen all these refs before, and though I expect very little from Fatou Cissoko-Stephens, I expect better from Kathleen Lynch and Bryan Brunette. (Also, Cissoko-Stephens needs to sharpen her hand signals- she's not very clear when it's a shooting foul versus an offensive foul.)

Sigma Chi Beta got in late, but they got there. Love the support they're showing. 6th Man made some noise tonight too. When they're in, they're in.

Intense halftime game today.

As long as we have Aliyyah and Danaejah, we're going to pull out games against lesser opponents, or at least have them provide the base and have the other starters fill in around it. But we're going to need more than that come Big East season. January 2nd is no joke. (It's all kinds of awkward, but it's no joke.)