Hempstead, N.Y. - The Hofstra women's basketball team will renew a local rivalry this weekend when the Pride makes the short trek to face nationally ranked St. John's on Saturday at 2 p.m. from Carnesecca Arena.
Hofstra (1-1) is coming off a season-opening split in the WBI Tip-Off Classic, defeating Stetson before falling to Texas. The Pride will now face a St. John's squad that also went 1-1 in the same tournament in Daytona Beach, Fla. The Red Storm entered the week ranked 20th in the Associated Press poll and 19th in the USA Today coaches' poll.
The Pride will be facing a BCS conference opponent for the second consecutive game. Hofstra has posted halftime leads in both of its contests this season, including a six-point second-half edge against a Texas squad that was picked to finish in the top-four of the Big 12 and is currently ranked 19th by the AP.
Senior forward Shante Evans has been the offense's driving force and a veteran presence on a young team. The West Chester, Pa. native is averaging 14 points and nine rebounds. Dating to the previous season, Evans has double-doubles in 17 of Hofstra's last 24 games.
Last week, Evans was named to the John R. Wooden Award Preseason Top-30 watch list by the Los Angeles Athletic Club, making her one of just 30 women's basketball players who were tabbed as the early front-runners for the prestigious honor.
Evans, a two-time All-American selection, has been complemented by a five-player freshmen class that is making an instant impact. Freshman Asia Jackson (Peekskill, N.Y.) has started both games and is one of three Hofstra players averaging in double figures, tying Annie Payton (Camden, N.J.) for the second-highest scoring average at 10.5. Jackson, who has netted three steals and two blocks while compiling four assists, was named the Colonial Athletic Association's first Rookie of the Week of 2012-13.
Fellow freshman Dee Thomas-Palmer (Philadelphia, PA) has given Hofstra a boost off the bench, contributing five rebounds and a 4.5 scoring average. At one point against Texas, Hofstra had all five freshmen on the court simultaneously with Ruth Sherrill (Alexandria, Va.), Sydni Epps (Cheltenham, PA) and Alexis Carter (Woodbridge, Va.) logging minutes.
Hofstra's young players have earned game experience against a challenging non-conference slate. Already, the Pride has played two teams coming off postseason appearances. Stetson made last season's WNIT and Texas qualified for the NCAA Tournament. The Pride will now oppose a St. John's team that advanced to Sweet 16 round last season.
Hofstra is 2-11 all-time against St. John's, though the Pride defeated the Red Storm, 93-82, in a fast-paced game last season at the Mack Sports Complex. Hofstra's previous win in the series came on Nov. 23, 2001 in the SJU Thanksgiving Tournament.
The Pride has gotten off to fast starts in the current campaign, out-scoring teams, 74-65, in the first half. That quick-strike ability will be asked to help Hofstra combat a potent St. John's offense led by senior guard Shenneika Smith, who was named the 2012 All-Metropolitan Basketball Writers Association Division I Player of the Year.
Smith is coming off a 23-point, 12-rebound effort in a WBI Tip-Off finale win against Central Florida in which she was one of three Red Storm players to post a double-double. St. John's has used the three-point shot to its advantage in the young season, firing 11-for-24 (45.8 percent) from beyond the arc.
Since Krista Kilburn-Steveskey took over as head coach of the Hofstra women's basketball team in 2006-07, the Pride has been competitive against BCS conference opponents. In Kilburn-Steveskey's seven seasons, Hofstra is 9-9 vs. teams from BCS-level conferences and has won five of its last seven games against those schools.
Senior forward Candace Bond will be going for a milestone against St. John's. The Fort Washington, Md. Native enters tied for sixth on Hofstra's all-time steals list with 217, knotting her with Nora Anderson (1995-99). She needs just two more to tie Liz Irwin (1978-82) for fifth on the list. Bond is averaging eight points and three steals per game.