The women's basketball team at St. John's absorbed a 71-65 loss to No. 3 Connecticut on Saturday and tried to find the positives. Staying with the seven-time national champion in a Big East game had to mean more than a nice try.
Shenneika Smith, who led St. John's with 21 points, didn't want to hear too much about the fabled opponent. "I think it's more about us," the senior guard said. "What we're capable of doing when we play together, when we play hard."
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The only difference in the game, as pointed out by UConn coach Geno Auriemma, was the Huskies' run late in the second half. A 35-all tie at halftime turned into a six-point St. John's advantage when Aliyyah Handford hit a jumper with 15:44 left. It was fragile, but still a lead against UConn (20-1, 7-1), a team that usually wins by high double digits. St. John's is 10-10, 4-4.
UConn, playing without starting 6-5 center Stephanie Dolson, who was scratched with flu symptoms, went to work with the game tied at 57 with 4:34 left. Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis scored th next seven UConn points -- five on free throws -- in a 10-3 run and Kelly Faris buried a three-pointer that pushed UConn's lead to 67-60 with 1:16 left.
There would be no comeback. Mosqueda-Lewis had 19 points, Faris 17 and guard Bria Hartley of North Babylon finished with 10. For St. John's, Handford had 17 and Briana Brown 16. St. John's did its best work attacking the basket, not so much shooting from three-point range, where it was 1-for-10 in the second half.
"I think St. John's did a great job of getting to the basket on us," Auriemma said. "We probably gave up more layups today then we have all year long . . . I don't think we did anything better than them except we had a stretch where we played really well defensively and got ourselves to the free-throw line."
UConn converted 19 of 25 free throws; Mosqueda-Lewis was 6-for-7.
For UConn, it was merely a close call on the way to what it hopes will be another championship season.
"It's something we want really, really bad," Hartley said in a phone interview Thursday. "All of us that come here, we come to win national championships."
Hartley missed most of the preseason and four games recovering from a partially torn ligament in her left ankle.
"It was difficult," she said. "I've never really had to deal with an injury that had me out that long. You get kind of bummed when you're out on the sideline and you have to sit and watch practice for five weeks straight. The most you can do is try to learn by watching rather than doing."
Hartley shot only 3-for-13.
"I think like anybody else, when Bria is making shots, the rest of her game just falls into place nicely," Auriemma said. "Right now, we are just trying to get her to stay aggressive, don't get frustrated because that's easy to do. When you're used to playing at a really high level and all of a sudden you can't, you get frustrated. Little by little, I see her coming around; it's just a matter of when it happens."