99 Teardrops

STORRS, Conn. – Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma referred to it as the "perfect storm" for the St. John's women's basketball team.

"They held the ball, we missed shots, we turned the ball over at key times and they were the kind of turnovers you could score off of," Auriemma said. "Could I see it coming? I don't know. We've played pretty well. But we have to play on all cylinders to beat a good team – and they're a good team."

If the college basketball world hadn't previously acknowledged the Red Storm, perhaps that recognition is overdue. Shenneika Smith hit a three-point basket from the right wing with eight seconds left to give St. John's a 57-56 victory over No. 2 UConn (24-3, 11-2) Saturday night before 9,552 at Gampel Pavilion.

But this wasn't about one shot falling through the net. St. John's (18-8, 10-3 Big East) fell behind 11-3 in the early minutes of this game but remained poised. The Red Storm stayed with its game plan and, quite frankly, seemed in control the rest of the game. Da'Shena Stevens and Nadirah McKenith led all scorers with 15 points each as UConn committed 18 turnovers that resulted in 20 St. John's points.

And by staying close, on the road, against a UConn team that isn't supposed to lose at home, the Red Storm was left with an opportunity to win – and took advantage of it. The game winner was just Smith's fourth three-pointer of the season and her first in a month.

"She wanted me to call that play and I said to my staff, ‘Should we go for the tie here or should we go for the win?' And we said, ‘Why not go for the win?' She wanted it," said St. John's coach Kim Barnes Arico.

A crowd that came to see history made and to honor guard Tiffany Hayes on Senior Night, suddenly was kicked in the stomach by the flip side of history. Instead of extending their home winning streak to 100 games, the Huskies had that remarkable run ended at 99.

The Huskies hadn't lost at home since 2007. They hadn't lost at home to an unranked opponent in 261 games, dating back to 1993. And coupled with a loss by the UConn men to Marquette Saturday afternoon, both the men and women lost at home on the same day for the first time since Feb. 27, 1993.

The Perfect Storm, indeed. (Excuse Auriemma's play on words after a game against the Red Storm.)

"It's just a loss, period," said Hayes, who lost at home for the first time in her career. "You never want to lose, especially at home and on a day like this. But it is still a loss and it feels like another loss no matter what."

Hayes, a member of two national championship teams, now has only experienced defeat five times in a UConn uniform. It was a bitter pill to swallow after being greeted with roses and a standing ovation during Senior Night ceremonies.

"It was us; we couldn't get into any type of rhythm," said Hayes, who finished with eight points, four fouls, and seven turnovers in 37 minutes. "Some of the time we couldn't finish, and we just couldn't knock down shots. Sometimes they made us rush a little bit. Other than that I just think it was us. We couldn't get stuff done."

Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis led the Huskies with 12 points and Kiah Stokes joined her off the bench with 11 points. Bria Hartley (10 points on 5 of 13 shooting) had a final chance to win it for the Huskies. Hartley got open in the right corner and had a good look at the basket but her three-point shot was short and suddenly the St. John's players were celebrating a mid-court as a stunned crowd exited silently.

"Days like today are a reminder that you're only supposed to win when you play really well and beat the other team. We didn't deserve to win. I don't care if we won 900 in a row at home," Auriemma said. "Leading up to that last shot, if that shot goes in – hey that's 100 in a row. Realistically, though, St. John's outplayed us today. They did what they wanted to do better than what we wanted to do. It was a fitting end for them."

Auriemma has been harping on turnovers all season. This time the Huskies paid the price.

"No one wants 18 turnovers and the fact they capitalized on most of them is unacceptable," center Stefanie Dolson said. "At this point of the season, we shouldn't be turning the ball over as many times as we did. We have to take care of it. We need to focus on the little things and not have turnovers."

St. John's celebrated joyously because the victory was such an unusual accomplishment coming on the home court of the Huskies.

"I think we made a statement tonight," Stevens said. "Coach brought up not being ranked, but we really didn't worry about that. To come out and play against a great team with what they were going for tonight, it just feels amazing."

Winning 100 straight home games would have been special. But UConn's domination against unranked teams for almost 19 years is even more remarkable. The Huskies let that get away Saturday night.

"There are a lot of teams that are ranked that are not as good as St. John's," Auriemma said.

And, conversely, not many programs like UConn – where past accomplishments lead to such a heavy burden of expectations and pressure.

"You saw our fans," Auriemma said. "There's probably a sense of entitlement. You come watch UConn play at Gampel and they're going to win. And you're going to win by a lot. When you don't, there's like stunned silence instead of something other than that. Losses are part of the game. If you know you're going to win every single game you play at home, at some point, you've just got to say it's not possible. It's just not realistic.

"And where we go from here, you can't predict with this team. There's no way of looking ahead and saying, ‘Come Tuesday, I know we're going to do this.' . . . For the most we're pretty good at hiding things. Today, all the things we worry about every day in practice, all those things showed their ugly head. You end up with 56 points and you lose by one."


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