Aaliyah Covington saw her sophomore season with the Saint Louis University women’s basketball team end in heartbreaking fashion March 25 at Chaifetz Arena.
Covington and the Billikens were 0.9 seconds away from a trip to the Elite Eight in the Women’s National Invitational Tournament. SLU was leading Western Kentucky 76-75 in a third-round game.
But Western Kentucky freshman Sidnee Bopp spoiled the Billikens’ plans by hitting a 3-pointer as time expired to give the Hilltoppers a 78-76 win.
After the referees looked at the replays and confirmed the basket was good, all Covington could do was watch a group of Western Kentucky players celebrate at the other end of the court.
Despite the stunning loss to Western Kentucky, Covington still turned in an outstanding sophomore season with the Billikens. The Edwardsville graduate was a sparkplug off the bench as she averaged almost seven points per game and helped Saint Louis finish with its best season in program history.
The Billikens, who were 14-15 last winter, finished 26-8 and shared the Atlantic 10 Conference championship with Duquesne and George Washington. SLU set a record for most wins in a season, finished with its 11th winning season in its 41-year history and made its second trip to the postseason.
“It’s awesome,” Covington said. “It’s all what we’ve worked for. We’ve been working in preseason and summer workouts. The difference between this year and last year was that we have confidence. We have confidence within each other, our coaches have confidence within us and our school is here to back us up.”
Covington was part of a SLU team that included co-Atlantic 10 Player of the Year Jackie Kemph and seniors Jamesia Price and Denisha Womack. Covington is one of five sophomores on the squad.
A year ago, Covington played in just 10 games. This year, she played in all 34 games off the bench and averaged almost seven points per contest.
Covington scored in double digits seven times, six of them were in conference play. On Jan. 16, Covington scored a team-high 21 points with four 3-pointers to lead the Billikens to a 70-56 win over Dayton.
Lisa Stone, who wrapped up her fourth season as Saint Louis coach, said she was impressed with Covington’s play this season.
“Aaliyah is strong and she can get to the basket for us,” she said. “It takes a little bit of pressure off Jackie. Jackie is a penetrating guard who likes to kick and dish.”
SLU won its first seven games. The Billikens hit the 20-win mark for the first time in school history after beating Duquesne on Feb. 18.
“We were like winning,” Covington said. “We were playing well. Through those wins, it gave us confidence and we kept going.”
Before this year, the Billikens didn’t have any postseason wins. Now, they have two after beating Arkansas-Little Rock and Ball State in the first two rounds of the 64-team WNIT. Both games were at Chaifetz Arena.
Covington scored seven points in the Billikens’ 70-69 win over Little Rock in a first-round game on March 17. It was SLU’s first postseason victory in school history.
Covington said she was thrilled to play in the first postseason game of her collegiate career.
“It was an awesome atmosphere,” the SLU sophomore said. “I just love playing with my teammates. We’ve got the job done. It doesn’t matter how pretty it is sometimes, but we’ve got the job done.”
In the game with Western Kentucky, with SLU trailing 75-74 in the final seconds of the game, Covington received an inbounds pass from Kemph. She dribbled to the top of the key, then fired a pass to Olivia Jakubicek on the right wing. Jakubicek hit a jumper with 0.9 seconds left to give SLU a 76-75 lead. Covington finished with a career-best five assists in that contest.
After a Western Kentucky timeout, Bopp received the inbounds pass and hit the 3-pointer to end the Billikens’ season. Two days later, the Hilltoppers lost to South Dakota, which went on to the win the tournament after beating Florida Gulf Coast in the championship game.
Covington graduated from Edwardsville in 2014. During her high school career, she helped the Tigers win four regional championships and three sectional titles and get a second-place finish at state in 2012, which was her sophomore year.
Covington’s older sister, Anya, played basketball at the University of Wisconsin from 2008-2012. Stone was the Badgers’ coach for eight years (2003-2011) before taking over the SLU program in 2012.
Stone said she has high hopes for Aaliyah for the next two years.
“I’m happy for Aaliyah because now I see what she can do and she’s going to do more of it,” she said.
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