|Notre Dame's Devereaux Peters (14) shoots between St. John's Tesia Harris (34) and Da'Shena Stevens (3) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game on Saturday, Jan. 28, 2012, in the Queens Borough of New York. (AP Photo/Kathy Kmonicek)|
St. John's women can't overcome poor start vs. ND
NEW YORK—St. John's coach Kim Barnes Arico was surprised at how tight her team came out against Notre Dame.
The Red Storm had already played No. 1 Baylor tough and compete in one of the best conferences in the country. Yet they were rattled for the first 20 minutes in a 71-56 loss to the second-ranked Fighting Irish on Saturday.
"I was shocked," Barnes Arico said. "I was like, `What's going on.' The first four minutes we were fine. Then we turned the ball over a few times and their confidence was shook. In large part it's due to Notre Dame. We were able to regroup though."
St. John's jumped out to a 6-1 lead before Notre Dame (21-1, 8-0 Big East) went on a 19-2 run to take an early 12-point lead. During one sequence, Notre Dame center Devereaux Peters stole the ball from point guard Nadirah McKenith and coasted in for an easy layup.
"She picked me," McKenith said. "That's never happened before by a post player. I was kinda embarrassed she stole the ball from me like that. We were nervous and I don't know why. The second half we talked about it, played like we know how and went out there and fought."
St. John's trailed by 20 at the half before cutting its deficit to 11, but the Red Storm could get no closer.
Despite Saturday's performance, the Red Storm have been playing well over the last month. They had won six of their previous seven games since getting everyone healthy, including victories over then-No. 7 Rutgers and then-No. 14 Louisville.
"I like where our team is right now," Barnes Arico said. "To come back here and not quit. We could have come out and it really could have gotten ugly. They showed that they are a really good basketball team."
Skylar Diggins scored 24 points, and Peters had 18 points, 15 rebounds, five blocks and four steals to lead the Irish to their 18th straight victory.
"They are a really talented team," Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. "They made us play ugly today."
Peters had six points and Diggins eight, including a pretty floater down the lane that made it 20-8 with 11:16 left in the half.
St. John's scored the next eight points, including two 3-pointers by Tesia Harris, to cut it to a four-point game. That's as close as the Red Storm (13-8, 5-3) would get as Notre Dame put it away with a 14-0 spurt.
"I thought we played pretty well in the first half," McGraw said. "I thought we were playing their pace, it lulled us. When we started rebounding and running we looked like ourselves."
Notre Dame dominated the glass, outrebounding St. John's 49-29 -- including a whopping 26-8 advantage in the first half.
Diggins has been the catalyst for the Irish all season. During the decisive run she scored four points and had two assists on beautiful lookaway passes to Natalie Achonwa. Later in the first half, with her team up 18 points, the junior guard blocked a shot on one end, ran the floor and caught a long outlet from Peters for a lay-in.
Even when she made a rare mistake, she quickly made up for it. On one sequence, the preseason All-American turned the ball over, but hustled back and blocked a shot on the other end. She moved into 11th place on the school's all-time scoring list, passing assistant coach and mentor Niele Ivey.
"I didn't know that," Diggins said smiling. "Don't tell her."
The Irish will be back in the Tri-State area Tuesday night when they play No. 11 Rutgers. Notre Dame will fly back to South Bend and return Monday because of classes.
"Those academic institutions they like us to get to class," McGraw said. "We'll be home by 5 p.m. Sometimes when you sit around the hotel you get a little bored. It's good for us to get back home."
Notre Dame has won 21 of the 24 games between the teams although the Red Storm had won the previous three at home, including upsetting the then-No. 4 Irish in 2010.
"We hadn't won here in three straight trips," McGraw said. "No one on this team has won here and it was an important game for us to take care of business, something that we haven't done in the past."
Trailing 43-23 at the half, the Red Storm tried to battle back. They started the second half with a 13-4 run to cut the deficit to 11, but Diggins calmly restored order for the Irish -- who scored eight of the next 10 points to seal the win.
"I feel like we played the best team in the country," Barnes Arico said. "They have a lot of weapons, are extremely well coached, really a great team."
Da'Shena Stevens and Shenneika Smith each scored 10 points to lead St. John's.