From President Barack Obama to Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), the St. John's women have built quite the bandwagon of followers the last month.

Red Storm coach Kim Barnes Arico, although appreciative of the accolades, wants her team to focus on the task at hand.

For third-seeded St. John's (24-9), that task will be finding a way to beat second-seeded Duke (26-5) in an NCAA Regional semifinal Saturday night in Fresno, Calif..

"We've been getting a lot of coverage since the Connecticut game," Barnes Arico said in reference to her team's 57-56 win over the Huskies on Feb. 18. "I always tell them don't let any of this stuff make you soft. Don't let it be a distraction. Let's keep our focus, let's keep our eyes on the goal . . . We can celebrate at the end."

Saturday's game marks the furthest St. John's has been in the NCAA Tournament. St. John's fell to Stanford and Florida State, respectively, in the second round in 2011 and 2010.

"The difference is our experience, for sure, because coming down the stretch of the Oklahoma game, we were in the exact same position as the Florida State game [two years ago],'' Barnes Arico said.

The Red Storm is led by senior forward Da'Shena Stevens and junior guards Shenneika Smith, Nadirah McKenith and Eugeneia McPherson, a North Babylon graduate.

St. John's edged No. 14 Creighton, 69-67, in the first round on a last-second layup by McKenith and beat Oklahoma, 74-70, in the second round.

Barnes Arico also cited her team's schedule, which included games against No. 1 Baylor and Notre Dame, as a way of building mental toughness.

She added: "I think just their experience and being in those situations and playing against the toughest competition in the country and having a great schedule this year has really prepared them to finish off the games against Creighton and Oklahoma."

Barnes Arico's businesslike attitude has rubbed off on her team.

"We do celebrate being here, but Coach always says don't get soft on us,'' Smith said. "We'll celebrate when we go home. But right now, we're here to take care of business.''

St. John's will have its hands full against a Duke team that features talented freshman center Elizabeth Williams (14.2 points per game, 8.1 rebounds). The Blue Devils also have a talented backcourt trio in sophomores Chelsea Gray, Tricia Liston and Haley Peters.


Unlimited Digital AccessOnly 25¢for 5 months