The opposition cannot take Aaliyah Lewis for granted any longer.
The guard delivered 20-point nights in high school at Bishop Ford, and St. John’s named the college junior a starter last season. But opposing defenders weren’t taking her seriously — they’d focus on threats such as Aliyyah Handford and Danaejah Grant — so Lewis stepped up her off-seasons practice routine.
“Basically people were just disrespecting me and leaving me open,” Lewis said. “I just had to stop that and work on my game at let people know that I can shoot and get some respect.”
She spent countless hours recreating scoring situations and working the shooting machine during the off season — now she is finally seeing the fruits of her labor. The 5-foot-5 junior is averaging 7.7 points per game — up from 6.0 last season. She’s scored two more points this year than last in seven fewer games. Her empowered playing style is catching opponents off guard, she said.
“My confidence is totally sky-high,” she said. “Coming into this season a lot of teams probably thought I would be the same player as I was last year.”
Some of her added aggressiveness comes from being a veteran now, but much of it stems from seeing results. Lewis found her confidence in an 18-point game to help the Red Storm beat Creighton on the road on Dec. 29. She shot five of nine from the field, made two treys, and was a perfect six-for-six at the free-throw line. It was a breakout game in her mind.
“I just saw the ball going through the net constantly,” Lewis said. “From there, I knew I could do it.”
Lewis continued her improved scoring by tallying a career-high 22 points in a win over rival Seton Hall on Feb. 7. Some of the team’s top players were out with foul trouble in the first half, and she took it upon herself to pick up the slack.
The new mindset was even evident in a home loss to Villanova, where Lewis managed just seven points to go along with five assists. Lewis took the Red Storm’s second shot, made her first two jumpers — including a three to end the first quarter — and was aggressive attacking the basket. Lewis’s shot selection has improved, and her aggression is becoming an asset.
“I think she needs to continue to put pressure on the other teams, because they just leave her,” Red Storm coach Joe Tartamella said. “The improvement has been spectacular since she has been a freshman here.”
Getting points from Lewis is bonus to the strong play he has always gotten from her. She is the teams’ leader in assists and has 109 helpers to 56 turnovers. Lewis and the Red Storm are in a battle for second place in the Big East and a National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament berth, and Lewis sees her impact growing.
“My confidence it just going up now,” she said. “When I get it and I am open, I just know I am going to knock the jump-shot down.”
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