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St. John's women looking beyond Sweet 16

St. John's guard Eugeneia McPherson (22) shoots in

St. John's guard Eugeneia McPherson (22) shoots in the first half of an NCAA tournament first-round women's college basketball game against Creighton. (March 18, 2012) Credit: AP

Making the NCAA's Sweet 16 last season was not enough for the women's basketball team at St. John's. The players have even greater expectations -- and a new coach who embraces those goals.

"I think we all view it as unfinished business,'' senior guard Eugeneia McPherson of North Babylon said. "We're making St. John's history, but we're not happy with the Sweet 16. We want to get to the Elite Eight and eventually the Final Four.''

First-year coach Joe Tartamella is no stranger to the program. He assisted Kim Barnes-Arico for seven years, rising to associate head coach in 2008, and was the no-brainer choice to succeed her when she left for Michigan.

"He was Kim's right-hand person in so many ways,'' athletic director Chris Monasch said. "Strategically, running the game and recruiting, so he really saw the growth of this program from all sides over the years. He knows what works here. At the end of the day, he was the obvious choice.''

Last year's breakthrough season (24-10) included a victory at Connecticut, the Huskies' first loss at home in 99 games. "That was amazing, that was incredible beating UConn, and it just wasn't for St. John's,'' senior guard Shenneika Smith said. "It was for everyone. Not a lot of people have the chance to beat them . . . People look to beat us now. We were the ones looking to beat everybody else. We have some fame and some credibility and some light shining on this program.''

St. John's was selected fourth in the Big East preseason poll, but that is far below the players' expectations. "We're going to try and create more history here by getting further than the Sweet 16,'' senior point guard Nadia McKenith said.

McKenith and Smith are preseason All-Big East players. Smith led the team in scoring (12.5) and rebounding (6.4). Tartamella said sophomore forward Amber Thompson is poised for a "breakout season'' and redshirt junior forward Mary Nwachukwu should emerge as an outside threat to stretch the defenses.

A big loss is Da'Shena Stevens, but 6-2 freshman Sandra Udobi will give it a try. Guard Keylantra Langley will come off the bench and Tartamella said freshman guard Ashley Perez could become a three-point threat. Briana Brown is listed as a guard but can play several positions.

If the season unfolds as expected, St. John's hopes to host a first-round game in the NCAA Tournament. "Our expectations don't change,'' Tartamella said. "We believe we can vie for a conference championship. We also want to believe that we're going to postseason every year.''

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