Sunday, January 29, 2017

January 29th, 2017: Xavier at St. John's

Just the Facts, Ma'am: Defense and resurgence keyed the Red Storm's 64-55 win over Xavier. Akina Wellere had 17 points to lead all scorers, with Jade Walker adding 14 and Imani Littleton 12 points and 11 rebounds. Maddison Blackwell led Xavier with 14 points and eight rebounds.

For the reversal of the sophomore slump, bad puns, bland jerseys, la familia, and being in the wrong zone, join your intrepid and chilled blogger after the jump.

You know the only thing crazier than trying to fit three basketball games into three days? Fitting four basketball games into three days. It's the annual Garden double-header for St. John's, as the Red Storm play hosts to the Musketeers of Xavier.

This is my first St. John's game at the Garden since the renovations were completed, and it's different from the Liberty games I go to. The lighting and accents are all in red. The floor is different. The stanchions are padded in red. It's right but wrong a the same time.

Anthem singer needs to get off the melisma train.

At halftime, St. John's is up 37-26. Solid, balanced scoring. Maddison Blackwell, perhaps with visions of a revised MSG marquee dancing in her head, has eight for the Musketeers.

Our current location, which is at the opposite end of the row from our ticketed location, is in the midst of Aaliyah Lewis's family. To my amusement, we're also a couple of rows down from our Liberty season tickets. (Morgan, if you're reading this, my seat is still broken.)

I don't think we should be one of those teams that plays down to their opponent unless we can consistently play up to them too. Xavier is really not that good, and they don't even have the kind of future hope that Butler has; Butler's best players are underclassmen, but Xavier's being carried by seniors If this is as far as their seniors can carry them, with nothing coming in... for their sake I hope they have some freshmen coming in next year.

Either Leah Schafer's game against us last year was the anomaly, or we planned for her and shut her down. She was called on for a fair number of minutes because Imani Partlow wouldn't know a legal screen from a legal brief, and she did nothing of note with them. Xavier got more effective play from Anniina Äijänen, who had a big block on Aaliyah. (In retrospect, running headlong into a six-something forward was not the smartest decision that five-five-in-heels Aaliyah has ever made in her life.) Coach Neal cleared his bench with thirty seconds or so to go, which gave Martha Thompson a chance to fail Intentional Fouling 101. (If you are intentionally fouling, do not foul a player in the act. If you do, make sure she doesn't hit the shot.)

Ashley Gomez and Megan Christopher were both part of the final-thirty bench-clear, so they have no relevant statistics. Tee Owens (officially Na'Teshia, but the PA guy called her Tee) filled a lot of minutes and showed some spark. Jada Byrd was tough on defense, but it cost her in fouls.

Imani Partlow looks like she's put on some girth since last year. That's a whole lot of woman out there, and if she ever learns how to set a stationary screen, she might be of more use to the Musketeers. She was physical, and she and Jade had some battles down low. But when you foul out, and four of your five fouls are offensive, you have a problem. Raeshaun Gaffney picked up some cheap free throws at the end of the game because, once again, we can't stop committing stupid fouls when we have a medium lead in the waning minutes. Maddison Blackwell was the shining star for Xavier, with smooth moves in the paint and good length on the boards. She's very smooth. I do love a woman who can throw in a hook shot.

Marquia Turner was out there doing work, but I can't put my finger on what she did. There was scoring, and good on-ball defense, but none of it spectacular, just solid. Kindell Fincher kept getting her name mispronounced by the PA guy, which happened with a lot of people. I really can't put any clear memory together of her, though. I guess this shows how little confidence Neal has in his backcourt.

Crystal Simmons brought defense, but not to the intense extreme she usually does, though we really didn't need her to be top-notch. Her handle wasn't great, but judging by the bag of ice taped to her hand after the game, there's probably a good reason for that. I'll let it go (she said with magnanimous sarcasm). Maya Singleton fought for every rebound and every loose ball. She plays with such strength. It's fun to watch. Andrayah Adams was solid, hitting a couple of jumpers and doing decently well on defense. She's developing really nicely. I like it.

They were, in fact, the Superman socks on Alisha Kebbe's feet (yesterday must have been laundry day, or she has two pair). She chased down lots of loose balls, even if she wasn't able to claim all of the boards. I love her heart and hustle. Aaliyah Lewis, sometimes, seems to be toying with her opponents, running down the clock and then blasting to the basket like she has rockets in her heels. She's so cute. She's so tiny. She's so fierce. She will probably eff me up if she ever catches me describing her as cute.

Look out, Big East. The Akina Wellere who took Chicago by (Red) storm last March is back in her groove. She's getting better looks and converting more of them. She's driving strong to the lane and pulling down boards. I am so, so very happy to see her back in her groove. This is a relief not just because I like seeing Akina play well, but because I think the grind is starting to get to Jade Walker. She's not a small woman. She's been playing an enormous load of minutes. She's been called upon to be the focal point of an offense that's lacked direction. She's starting to wear down. The jumpers are falling short earlier and earlier. She's not as ferocious on rebounds. She's still reliable, but she's not playing like the star she was earlier this season. Imani Littleton held down the defense on the inside and converted efficiently on offense, taking care of the glass on both ends of the floor. She still has moments of being a space cadet, or at least of being so deeply in her own zone she loses track of the ball and of her teammates.

(I get the feeling Imani is a very difficult person to get to know, but a very interesting person to know once the entry visa is issued.)

Officiating was adequate. Few complaints.

If we can get Jade, Akina, and Aaliyah all going at the same time, we can contend in the Big East. If we have only two out of three, it's much rougher sledding. I'm afraid of the day when we only have one out of the three going...

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