- Associated Press - Saturday, March 22, 2014

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Southern California’s season full of jubilation ended in devastation.

Briana Brown sank a 3-pointer with four-tenths of a second left to give No. 8 seed St. John’s a 71-68 victory Saturday night over the ninth-seeded Trojans in the first round of the NCAA tournament. The St. John’s victory wasn’t secure until Southern California guard Brianna Barrett’s desperation shot at the buzzer from at least 35 feet away bounced off the backboard and front rim.

The heartbreaking loss snapped Southern California’s six-game winning streak and ended coach Cynthia Cooper-Dyke’s triumphant debut season. Cooper-Dyke, a two-time WNBA most valuable player and member of USC’s 1983 and 1984 national championship teams, led the Trojans to their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2006. The Trojans had gone 11-20 last season to match the highest loss total in school history.

“I think we’re all disappointed in the loss, but that’s not what will define us this year,” Cooper-Dyke said. “We had a great season. No one believed we could be here, and yet here we sit.”

St. John’s (23-10) plays a second-round game Monday against No. 1 seed Tennessee, which beat Northwestern State 70-46 in Saturday’s other matchup at Thompson-Boling Arena.

Aliyyah Handford scored 27 points and Amber Thompson had 10 points for St. John’s, which didn’t lead until 3:07 remained in the game. Barrett had 24 points and Ariya Crook had 16 for Southern California.

St. John’s called a timeout with 25 seconds remaining to set up its final possession after a shot from Southern California’s Cassie Harberts spun out with 31 seconds left. St. John’s coach Joe Tartamella said he wanted to make sure his team took the last shot of the game. As the seconds ticked down, Keylantra Langley passed to Brown, who hit her shot from the baseline corner on the opposite end of the St. John’s bench to set off a wild celebration.

“They passed it around,” Crook said. “We did quite well until they passed it to the corner and we had a miscommunication and she shot the three and made it.”

Before that shot, Brown hadn’t scored the entire game. She had missed her first five shots, including three from 3-point range. St. John’s had gone 1 of 7 from 3-point range as a team before Brown’s game-winner.

“I know I hadn’t made a shot the whole game, but my teammates were behind me the whole way through, (saying), ‘You’re going to get that shot. You’re going to make the next one,’” Brown said. “It happened to be the big one.”

Before that thrilling final minute, both teams struggled to find a rhythm in a game that featured a combined 54 fouls and 64 free throws. St. John’s was 27 of 33 from the line, while Southern California was 24 of 31.

Although St. John’s reserve Jade Walker was the only player to foul out, four St. John’s players and three USC players finished with four fouls. Foul trouble may have played a role in an uncharacteristically sluggish performance from Harberts, who shot 3 of 9 and had eight points and six rebounds. Harberts, who has played and started more games than anyone in USC history, was averaging 15.6 points and 7.4 rebounds this season.

“We did a great job of getting back and not allowing easy position for her… but also we got her out of the game,” Tartamella said. “We got her in foul trouble early, so her rhythm was taken away, just like we had some foul problems throughout the game.”

After trailing 36-25 with less than five minutes left until halftime, St. John’s went on a 13-4 run that cut the lead to two points early in the second half. St. John’s finally tied the game on a pair of McPherson free throws with 12:23 remaining, and the game stayed tight the rest of the way.

“Throughout the game, I just thought we were a little off balance,” Cooper-Dyke said. “We couldn’t really get over the hump. We’d go up by 11. Then we make a couple mistakes, turn the ball over, miss a layup. Something would happen. We could never get over that hump and get into a groove.”

St. John’s took its first lead of the game with 3:07 left when Langley scored from inside the paint. Amber Thompson’s layup extended the Red Storm’s lead to 68-65 with 1:39 left.

Crook answered with 1:19 left when she sank a game-tying 3-pointer, USC’s first basket since the 8:02 mark.

That set the stage for Brown’s big moment.



Click to Read More

Click to Hide