St. John's women make it four straight NCAA tourney appearances

St. John's Shenneika Smith, left, and Louisville's Antonita

St. John's Shenneika Smith, left, and Louisville's Antonita Slaughter, right, chase a loose ball in the second half of a quarterfinals game of the Big East women's tournament in Hartford, Conn. (March 10, 2013) (Credit: AP)

A new season, a new coach, but the St. John's women didn't miss a beat. For the fourth straight season, the Red Storm earned a berth in the NCAA Tournament when the field was announced Monday night.

St. John's (18-12), a 10th seed in the Bridgeport Regional, will host No. 7 Dayton (27-2) in a first-round game at 2:30 p.m. Sunday at Carnesecca Arena.

The road to the tourney was a little tougher than usual for first-year coach Joe Tartamella and his squad, which lost senior guard Eugeneia McPherson to a torn ACL five games into the season. "She was the last player I thought we'd lose because she's always been there," Tartamella said. "But we never gave up and came back game after game. This certainly wasn't the easiest season."

St. John's lost three games at the buzzer, including one to Syracuse on a shot from midcourt. "We lost a few close ones early, but we found a way to get past those loopholes," said senior guard Shenneika Smith, who leads the Red Storm in scoring at 16.7 points per game.

St. John's won eight of its final 10 games, including a Big East Tournament first-round game against Seton Hall, to earn its spot in the tournament and at least one home game.

"It's awesome," point guard Nadirah McKenith said. "Not many people get an opportunity to play in the tournament in front of their home fans."

Getting a chance to play in the tournament for a fourth straight year also is special. St. John's advanced to an NCAA regional semifinal last year under former coach Kim Barnes Arico.

"It's extra gratifying," Tartamella said. "The seniors get to go out playing in four straight tournaments. Our goal has always been consistency."

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