|Baylor's Brittney Griner (42) gets an offensive rebound against St. John's during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game during the Maggie Dixon Basketball Classic, Sunday, Dec. 11, 2011, at Madison Square Garden in New York. (AP Photo/Henny Ray Abrams)|
St. John's women fall to No. 1 Baylor 73-59
NEW YORK—Just as St. John's is ready to get back one of its stars, the Red Storm may have lost another one.
Point guard Nadirah McKenith left the Red Storm's 73-59 loss to No. 1 Baylor with an injury to her right knee late in the second half.
"It's stinky, really, really stinky," St. John's coach Kim Barnes Arico said. "She's special, no one can do what she can do. I thought Nadirah was unbelievable. Nadirah shined in the first half. Hopefully we'll find out more tomorrow."
While they may be without their point guard for a while, the Red Storm will get a boost from the return of Da'Shena Stevens later this week. The senior forward has been sidelined all season with an injury to her left knee suffered over the summer.
St. John's stayed with Baylor for the first 25 minutes, holding a two-point halftime lead which they extended to 36-30 early in the second half before faltering.
"The kids were a little too excited at the half," St. John's coach Kim Barnes Arico said. "We had 20 more minutes and they'd make a run. We had done a tremendous job on (Odyssey) Sims. Our biggest challenge was to keep that level of consistency."
The Red Storm contained Brittney Griner early on, holding the 6-foot-8 phenom to just three shots in the first half. She took control after the break and finished with 17 points, 13 rebounds and six blocks.
Brooklyn Pope scored 19 points to lead the Lady Bears (10-0), who have a showdown with No. 2 UConn on Dec. 18. It's the second straight season they have met as the top two teams in the poll. The Huskies edged the Lady Bears in Hartford last season by one point.
"I think it's a game that's been highlighted on my calendar," Griner said. "Who wouldn't be happy to play 1 vs 2. To play at home in front of your fans, there's nothing like it."
Baylor struggled early on against St. John's and was trailing 36-30 early in the second half before finally taking over.
Griner was the catalyst during an 18-3 run, scoring six points and blocking two shots. Her two free throws gave Baylor a 38-36 lead. The 6-foot-8 junior phenom's consecutive layups later in the burst extended the advantage to 44-39.
Odyssey Sims' first basket of the game capped the run and made it a nine-point game.
Eugeneia McPherson scored 23 points to lead St. John's (5-5), which didn't get within seven the rest of the way.
"We didn't come here to lose," McPherson said. "The first half we played really great and followed the game plan. It was the No. 1 team in the country and I'm excited for the rest of the season to know we can play like that is exciting."
It was a stellar weekend in New York for Baylor. Football star Robert Griffin III won the Heisman Trophy on Saturday night. The women's basketball team went to support their classmate, cheering him on from the red carpet while wearing shirts that said: "RG3 Baylor Nation."
The Lady Bears were at a Broadway show when they were texted the news of his victory. Fortunately, it came at a perfect time in the play so they could let out a loud cheer.
"We got the text he won and it was perfect timing because the crowd was cheering for Spiderman. I yelled at RG3," Griner said.
She and Griffin are good friends and he challenged her to a dunk contest.
"I challenged him to a throwing contest too, but i feel like I'll lose that one," she said laughing.
This is the second time that Baylor has played in the Classic named for the former Army women's coach. The Lady Bears beat Boston College two seasons ago. It's the fifth time the Classic has been played at Madison Square Garden. The first one was played at West Point when Army beat Ohio State.
Maggie Dixon died April 6, 2006, of arrhythmia, probably caused by an enlarged heart. Her death came three weeks after her first season as a head coach, a performance that won the admiration of the academy and all of college basketball as she led Army to its first NCAA berth. The Cadets lost in the first round to Tennessee. Pat Summitt's seventh-ranked Lady Vols faced No. 20 DePaul in the second game of the women's doubleheader.
The Lady Bears struggled in the first half as St. John's packed in its defense, refusing to let Griner beat them. Trailing 26-21 late in the half, St. John's went on a 7-0 run to take its first lead of the game on McKenith's layup and was up 32-30 at the break. Griner had seven points and six rebounds, but only took three shots.
Sims, who had been averaging 18 points and 10 assists in her last five games, was scoreless in the first half after missing all four of her shots. Pope was the only offensive bright spot in the first half for the Lady Bears, scoring 11 points.
McPherson had 10 points and McKenith nine for the Red Storm in the first half.
The Maggie Dixon Classic has special meaning to St. John's coach Kim Barnes Arico. Her brother Chris was running in London in May 2005 and his heart stopped. While he did survive, he's been living in an assisted care facility on Long Island.