St. John’s women edge Creighton 69-67 in NCAAsBy JEFF LATZKE, AP Sports Writer Sunday, Mar 18, 2012
NORMAN, Okla. (AP)—Without feeling a bit of pressure in practice, Nadirah McKenith will goof around and race to the rim, tossing up a wild shot on her way.
It turns out she can do it when her team’s season is on the line, too.
After Carli Tritz hit two free throws to tie it with 5.4 seconds left, McKenith took an inbounds pass and zoomed up the left sideline and into the lane before lofting a high-arcing shot that splashed in for the game-winner.
“She’s done stuff like this before. She’s kind of her own highlight reel,” Red Storm coach Kim Barnes Arico said. “We feel like when a game’s on the line, we can put the ball in her hands and she’s really been able to make plays for us.”
That’s exactly what happened with Missouri Valley Conference champion Creighton threatening to pull off one of the women’s tournament’s biggest upsets and become the first No. 14 seed ever to upend a third-seeded opponent.
“I was praying that it was going in,” said McKenith, who finished with 21 points in what she considered a poor game for herself.
“I practice that shot every day at practice. I joke around and take that shot every day. It just so happened to go in.”
Creighton coach Jim Flanery blamed himself for the final sequence, saying he felt he had to cover the possibility of his leading scorer missing the tying free throw. So he put two players on the blocks in position to rebound, and that left the Bluejays (20-13) more vulnerable to McKenith speeding away for the game-winner.
“She’s so slithery,” Flanery said. “She’s like a running back that can get through a hole and her shoulders are still going to the basket. That’s hard to do. Part of it is she’s so quick and she can cross over both directions.”
Ally Jensen scored 15 points, and Tritz and DaNae Moore had 14 apiece for Creighton, which had a chance to go ahead late after officials went to the replay monitor and ruled that Keylantra Langley elbowed Moore in the face while attempting to break a trap. Moore stepped up and hit both free throws with 51 seconds left, and Creighton also got possession.
But Tritz traveled while attempting to jump stop after faking a pass to the perimeter with 45 seconds to go.
Da’Shena Stevens made two free throws with 19.8 seconds left after colliding with Jordan Garrison in the lane before Tritz answered at the other end to tie it.
“You really don’t know what to expect. It’s the NCAA tournament,” said Stevens, who scored 12. “You’re playing great teams. It doesn’t matter what the seed is. There’s upsets all the time. I just think that you never underestimate anyone.”
Barnes Arico said she thought St. John’s, picked by President Barack Obama to reach the Final Four, felt pressure for the first time after getting the school’s highest seed ever.
The Red Storm (23-9) have won their tournament opener the past three years but have never made it out of the second round. They’ll play sixth-seeded Oklahoma or No. 11 seed Michigan on Tuesday night for a spot in the Fresno Regional semifinals.
“As much as everybody thinks we’re a 3 seed right now, it’s survive and advance,” Barnes Arico said. “It’s one game at a time.
“We want to be a Cinderella. We don’t care about the number 3 in front of us.”
Creighton was able to get easy baskets out of its motion offense while rallying back from 10 down in the first half and then switched to its 3-point shooting strength after St. John’s made halftime adjustments.
The Bluejays held a lead early in the second half and were still even when McKenzie Fujan rattled in the team’s fifth 3-pointer of the second half to tie it at 49 with 12:18 remaining.
The 3s stopped going in, and St. John’s scored the next nine points to go up 58-49 on Shenneika Smith’s jumper from the left elbow with 7:48 to play.
Jensen hit her fourth 3-pointer during a 9-2 rally, and the Bluejays eventually fought all the way back for a chance at their first NCAA tournament win in 20 years. This is their first appearance in a decade.
“I think we’ve kind of been that team that’s fought from behind all season long, so I don’t think we were nervous or too worried about it,” Jensen said. “Obviously, we would have liked to cut into their lead a little more and maybe take a lead, but we felt confident and fine playing from behind.
“We knew that if we just stayed with it that we’d have a chance to win at the end.”