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Lady 'Cats lose another close one

St. John's pulled out the victory in the final minute after hanging around for most of the second half.

Laura Sweeney's 15 points weren't enough to end the 'Cats winning streak
Laura Sweeney's 15 points weren't enough to end the 'Cats winning streak
One thing is for certain with Villanova basketball: They LOVE to make it interesting.

Yet another game went down to the wire at the Pavilion on Wednesday night, as the women’s basketball team fell to a highly talented St. John’s team 52-49. The Wildcats are now 18-9 overall, and 7-7 in the Big East, while the Johnnies improved to 10-4 in conference play.

Laura Sweeney made one of two foul shots to put ’Nova down one, 50-49 with 31 seconds to go. She rebounded her own missed free throw, but the ensuing possession resulted in a missed three-point attempt, and the foul game began. The Red Storm missed the front end of the one-and-one, but a Devon Kane jumper wouldn’t fall. Shenneika Smith sank two easy ones to put the game out of reach.

With 1:13 remaining in the game, Red Storm guard Aliyyah Handford was fouled on a layup, and converted one of two free throws, tying the game at 48. St. John’s then rebounded the miss and was fouled again. After sinking both shots, Villanova called timeout to set up the play which Laura Sweeney was fouled on.

Less than a minute into the second half, Nadirah McKenith hit a clutch three with the shot clock winding down to give St. John’s a 24-23 lead. The ’Cats, on the back of a Rachel Roberts 3-pointer, pulled out to a 30-26 lead.

Yet one thing that perplexes Coach Perretta, the fans, and even the players, is how this team often will go long periods without scoring. It cost them in games against Delaware and Providence early in the season, and often puts them in dangerous situations late in games.

Thankfully, the ’Nova defense stayed strong for a large part of the game. From the 14:50-11:13 mark, each team only scored once, with the Red Storm going four minutes without a made field goal.

Villanova jumped out to an early 4-2 lead at the start, on two Sweeney layups, both assisted by Lauren Burford. ’Nova managed to record an assist on their first four made field goals, and finished with eight assists on nine buckets in the opening 20 minutes. St. John’s then used a 9-0 run to gain a seven-point edge but it would be a back-and-forth affair the rest of the first half.

The ’Cats turned the ball over four times in the first four minutes, and this has begun to become a common occurrence for them. After committing seven turnovers early on in the first half on Sunday against Louisville, they managed to regain control and finished right on their season average of 11 per game. Wednesday evening, they turned it over just three times for the rest of the half.

The Red Storm held a 17-9 edge midway through the opening half, but Villanova’s defense and rebounding took over. The Wildcats grabbed 10 rebounds during a nine minute stretch which failed to see St. John’s score at all. A game that appeared high scoring at 13-9 before six minutes were up turned into a gritty battle, producing only 15 points from the 14:23 mark until just 34 seconds remained.

Roberts hit a buzzer-beating midrange jumpshot to give ’Nova a 23-21 lead at the half.

McKenith led all players at the break with 10 points on four of seven shooting. Both teams were shooting under 40 percent at that point, with St. John’s also 0-4 from behind the arc.

Sweeney paced the 'Cats with 15 points on the night.

It might be worth noting that head coach Harry Perretta was not in attendance tonight. Associate head coach Joe Mullaney took over his duties for the evening.