<
>

St. John's pulls off second straight upset of Notre Dame at home

NEW YORK -- Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw might not bring another team to storied Carnesecca Arena again.

Kia Wright scored 14 points and feisty, undersized St. John's stunned the Irish (No. 14 ESPN/USA Today, No. 9 AP) 61-51 on Monday night, the second straight time the Red Storm upset a highly ranked Notre Dame team at its on-campus home.

"We just happen to be playing pretty well at this point," said St. John's coach Kim Barnes Arico, who's due to give birth in a couple months but still stomped along the sideline all game, imploring her team to play defense and scrap for every loose ball.

"There's been a lot of energy all day," she said. "We just talked about playing hard and defending, playing hard and defending. ... When the pressure was on, they stepped up and did what they had to do. I didn't believe it until the final tick."

The only other time in 18 meetings that the Red Storm have beaten Notre Dame was on Jan. 4, 2006, when they upset the 12th-ranked Irish 66-63 at their 47-year-old gym. That win touched off a remarkable run to the Red Storm's first NCAA tournament appearance in 18 years.

Ashley Barlow had 18 points and 11 rebounds for the Irish, who had won eight of nine after a rough midseason stretch. Leading scorer Charel Allen was held to 11 points on 3-of-18 shooting, getting double- and triple-teamed every time she touched the ball.

"This was a tough loss for us," Barlow said. "We have to regroup for the Big East tournament and play better than we did tonight."

St. John's (16-13, 7-9), which qualified for the conference tournament by beating Cincinnati on Saturday, has won four of five, the only loss to top-ranked Connecticut when Barnes Arico suspended six players for violating an unspecified team policy.

Giving up several inches at most positions, St. John's simply outscrapped and outhustled the Irish (23-7, 11-5), who had already locked up the No. 4 seed and a first-round bye for the Big East tournament.

Reserve Kelly McManmon had 10 points in a balanced St. John's offense on a night when every player who saw time scored and grabbed a rebound.

"At the tip off," Wright said when asked when she knew St. John's had the game in hand. "I've been feeling good all day. It was a special day."

Wright's toughness nearly cost St. John's late in the game, though.

The Red Storm held Notre Dame to just 5-of-31 shooting and forced nine turnovers in building a 25-15 halftime lead, then extended it to 14 points a couple of times in the second half.

St. John's still led 54-45 with 1:28 left when Wright fouled Allen on a drive to the basket. Upset at the call, Wright got hit with a technical -- her fifth foul -- and Barlow made one of the two technical free throws.

Allen then made both of her foul shots, cutting the lead to 54-48, but Notre Dame missed its next six field-goal attempts and St. John's was just good enough from the free-throw line in the closing minutes to put it away.

"I'm sure they feel they can compete with everyone," Barnes Arico said of her team, which a week ago wasn't even sure it would be playing after Monday. "We've been playing better and doing what we need to do to be successful."

The Red Storm were 11-of-22 from the field in the second half and made more foul shots (17-of-28) than Notre Dame attempted (13-of-16) in maintaining a double-figure lead almost the entire final 20 minutes.

"St. John's played well and Kia Wright led them well," McGraw said. "They made more shots and they made the free throws down the stretch."

The Red Storm routinely collapsed on the Irish and their four-guard, perimeter-oriented offense, forcing them to take shots in traffic or hoist up 3-pointers from well beyond the arc.

Notre Dame finished 18-of-71 from the field (25.4 percent), 2-of-13 on 3-point attempts and committed 17 turnovers against just seven assists, in a sloppy performance reminiscent of a loss at West Virginia earlier in the season.

"St. John's looked like they wanted the game more than we did," McGraw said. "We just couldn't make any shots. That has to be a record for us, in terms of field goal percentage on the season. For a team that averages 75 points a game, it was just a disappointing showing."