Saint Louis women are Atlantic 10 co-champion for first time
ST. LOUIS (AP) Coach Lisa Stone has put the Saint Louis women's program on the map by making players enthusiastic partners in the endeavor.
Star guard Jackie Kemph can remember only one example of the coach putting her foot down in anger. The weather was so nice in St. Louis earlier this season that players neglected to bring heavy coats on a trip to Dayton and heard about it, minus the histrionics.
''Bring a coat on the next trip or you can't come. She said that to all of us,'' Kemph said. ''She was like `Everybody grab your jackets,' and nobody had their jackets. She's all about health and our well-being.''
Saint Louis could not be healthier, savoring its first share of a conference championship in the program's 41-year history. The Billikens (23-6) are the No. 2 seed in this week's Atlantic 10 tournament in Richmond, Virginia. They got a double bye to the quarterfinals of the conference tournament and will play either Saint Joseph's or Rhode Island on Friday.
They tied Duquesne and George Washington, all three going 13-3 in the conference. The conference tourney champion gets an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
''We've stayed together and won some places we've never won before,'' said Stone, in her fourth year at Saint Louis. ''School record after school record is a credit to the kids.''
The team has been setting benchmarks across the board this season, its first with a winning record since 2002-03. The previous high for victories was 18 and competitors have taken notice, naming Kemph co-player of the year as a sophomore and Stone coach of the year.
They're the first player and coach to earn those honors at the school, and Kemph is the school's first all-conference player since Theresa Lisch in 2008-09.
Kemph, also chosen to the five-player all-academic team, barely paused when she learned the good news. She has a 3.947 grade point average, majoring in business administration.
''I had to go take a test,'' Kemph said ''I'm still focused on the tournament and the rest of the year, so it's cool but not at the top of my mind right now.''
Senior guard Jamesia Price was selected among the top defenders for the second straight season.
''We are doing something that hasn't been done before,'' Price said. ''When it's happening you're appreciating it, but it's also like, `What else can I get?'''
Players were motivated after finishing 15-16 last season. The Billikens began this season 7-0.
Kemph is fourth in the A-10 in scoring with a 16.4-point average and first in assists (7.1), setting a single-season school record with 205. She's at or near the top of the league in assists-turnover ratio, free throws made and attempted, and free throw, field goal and 3-point percentage.
Kemph had a career-high 28 points in a victory at St. Bonaventure and needs six points to set a school mark for most points by a sophomore. She's led the team in scoring and assists in 15 games. She pulled up short on an uncontested layup and dished it off so center Sadie Stipanovich could reach 1,000 career points.
''She's so humble,'' Stone said. ''She's like `Coach, congratulations to you.' Every single week she's getting some kind of honor.''
The Billikens were picked to finish fifth in the 14-team A-10. They've set school marks with 13 conference wins, .813 conference winning percentage and 10 road victories.
Stone said the players have done their homework and told her what they've learned.
''Now it's on us, now it's really in our hands,'' Kemph said. ''We've earned it.''