St. John's Da'Shena Stevens passes against Duke's Haley Peters during...

St. John's Da'Shena Stevens passes against Duke's Haley Peters during the first half. (March 24, 2012) Credit: AP

FRESNO, Calif. -- The St. John's women's basketball team has a lot to look forward to next season. The Red Storm returns four starters and six reserves from a team that went 24-10 and made the NCAA Tournament's Sweet 16 for the first time.

And assuming St. John's makes its fourth straight NCAA Tournament appearance next season, it likely will play its first two games at Carnesecca Arena.

The season that ended with Saturday night's 74-47 loss to Duke in a regional semifinal began ominously in August. Senior Da'Shena Stevens had simple meniscus surgery on her left knee and expected to recover in four weeks. After the procedure, doctors called coach Kim Barnes Arico and told her Stevens would have to miss four months.

Without her, St. John's started the season 5-5. "It just turned everything different going into the season," Barnes Arico said. "When Da'Shena returned to the floor, there was just this sense of relief and confidence that had everybody back together."

Stevens returned Dec. 17, but the Red Storm suffered another disappointing loss Dec. 22 at Harvard before she made it into the starting lineup Dec. 31.

"There were times when we thought we weren't going to make it," junior Shenneika Smith said. "Throughout everything, we just had to come together and we pulled through, and this is the result that we got."

St. John's then won 15 of 18 and made it to the Big East Tournament semifinals before getting a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament's Fresno Regional.For the third straight year, the Red Storm was shipped to a regional far from home, with the prospect of facing the host school in the second round. But before St. John's could get to sixth-seeded Oklahoma in Norman, Okla., it needed Nadirah McKenith's layup with a tenth of a second left to beat 14th-seeded Creighton.

St. John's beat the Sooners, 74-70, in the second round -- its first NCAA win over a host school in three chances -- to reach the Sweet 16 against Duke.

Next season, St. John's loses Stevens' all-around leadership but returns its top three scorers in Smith (12.5 points plus a team-leading 6.4 rebounds per game), McKenith (12.1 points and a team-leading 4.8 assists per game) and Eugeneia McPherson (11.8 points per game). Amber Thompson, who finished the season as a starter, and reserves Keylantra Langley and Mary Nwachukwu, who averaged about 20 minutes a game each, also return. Plus, Barnes Arico already has secured three recruits, including 6-2 Sandra Udobi-Ofogu.