St. John's women struggling to find victories

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This hasn't been the season that rookie coach Joe Tartamella imagined when he took over the St. John's women's basketball team last April.

The Red Storm were coming off one of the most successful runs in school history, making the regional semifinals of the NCAA tournament. They were ranked 14th in the preseason Top 25 and returned four starters - including guard Nadirah McKenith and forward Shenneika Smith.

With so much talent coming back, St. John's was expected to contend in the Big East and be one of top teams in the country. Instead, the Red Storm (6-6) have struggled to find any sort of consistency.

St. John's has been hurt by the loss of senior guard Eugeneia McPherson, who tore the ACL in her right knee late in November. She was only averaging 7.6 points, but was the player who held the team together.

''People forget about who we don't have,'' said Tartamella, who was promoted when Kim Barnes Arico left to take the coaching job at Michigan, ''I didn't envision us without Eugeneia. Where we were at the beginning of the year, irregardless coming in, I know what we were trying to accomplish and know that we still can.''

Since she went down, the Red Storm are 2-5 with the victories coming over Tennessee Tech and NJIT.

On Wednesday night, St. John's lost to Elena Delle Donne and Delaware 60-59 in overtime. St. John's had many chances to win the game. The Red Storm had the ball at the end of regulation, but missed three shots. In overtime the Red Storm held a one-point lead with 7 seconds left before Delle Donne made a runner with a second left for the win.

It was the Red Storm's second last-second overtime loss to a talented team. They also lost by one to No. 16 UCLA in OT of the championship game of the Red Storm Holiday Classic. Quinnipiac beat St. John's by three points right before Christmas.

St. John's was 5-2 in games decided by three points or less in Smith's first three years. The Red Storm are winless in three tries this year.

''We are missing that one shot, one box out, one stop. That's what's making us lose,'' Smith said. ''It's not our identity. We know who we are and what we're about. We just got to do the intangibles.''

Tartamella can take heart that this team struggled in the early part of the Big East schedule last season, going 3-3 in its first six conference games. Then came a run that included a thrilling victory at Connecticut that snapped the Huskies' NCAA record 99-game home winning streak.

''I don't think we're that far away,'' Tartamella said. ''We're not at a point in our program where we talk about moral victories. Our mental state is in a good place even though we've had some tough losses. These guys are so resilient. They haven't come to practice without being ready to go.''

The Red Storm open up conference play Sunday morning at Rutgers.

''Last year is a different team, this year we have a very strong team, we just need that one win to turn the corner with,'' Smith said. ''The next game is the biggest game of the season and that's what we'll focus on.''

If St. John's can't get itself together it will be a disappointing March at Carnesecca Arena. The Red Storm are hosting the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament for the first time in school history.

''We have all the time in the world to get us back just like we were last year,'' Tartamella said. ''No one is going up against us thinking we're going to lay down.''


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