A win that ended Connecticut's home winning streak at 99 games, a sweep of Rutgers and a second-place finish in the Big East in the regular season earned St. John's what it has been waiting for: major recognition.
The NCAA Tournament selection committee Monday night rewarded the Red Storm (22-9) for a great season with a third seed in the Fresno Regional.
St. John's plays Missouri Valley Conference champion and 14th-seeded Creighton (20-12) in a first-round game at 5:05 p.m. Sunday in Norman, Okla.
"We're really excited to be a three," St. John's coach Kim Barnes Arico said of the program's highest-ever seeding. "It says a lot about the direction our program is going."
It will be the third straight NCAA Tournament appearance and the fourth in the last seven years for St. John's.
"We've come a long way since my freshman year," senior forward Da'Shena Stevens said. "We made the NIT and now we're back in the NCAA Tournament for the third time. It shows the kind of players we brought in."
Stevens averaged 11.0 points per game in St. John's balanced attack, behind Shenneika Smith (12.6), Nadirah McKenith (12.0) and North Babylon graduate Eugeneia McPherson (11.8).
Stevens missed the first 10 games of the season as she recovered from offseason knee surgery. The Red Storm went 5-5 in her absence. Few people thought St. John's would make any waves, much less beat UConn or Rutgers.
"I didn't even think that far ahead," Stevens said. "I wasn't sure we would get this far."
The Red Storm won its previous three NCAA Tournament first-round games but came up short in a bid to get to the Sweet 16.
If St. John's beats Creighton, its second-round opponent will be either Oklahoma or Michigan. If it's Oklahoma, St. John's will face the Sooners on their home floor. Stevens said it won't make a difference.
"We've done that before," she said. "We played Florida State on their court and we played Stanford on their court. It won't be any different this time."
Barnes Arico agreed.
"We have a confident group and an experienced group," she said. "They believe they can beat anybody."