St. John's starting point guard Ashley Whisonant found herself in the one place she does not like to be during a basketball game: on the bench.

The junior was forced to sit most of the second quarter as her teammates struggled yesterday against St. Frances Academy of Baltimore in a semifinal of the Holiday Hoops Classic at Washington Bible College in Lanham.

But in the second half, Whisonant returned to the court and scored a team-high 15 points to lift the second-ranked Cadets to a 69-65 victory. St. John's (6-2) will face St. Mary's-Annapolis in the final at 8 tonight. St. Mary's defeated Westminster, 47-42, in the second game of the doubleheader.

Whisonant gained valuable insight sitting on the bench after Coach Eddie Simpson sat her down for not hustling on defense during a St. Frances fast break.

"We played bad in the first half, turning the ball over," Whisonant said. "I was disappointed in how I was playing. I was turning the ball over a lot. We needed to work more together."

St. John's took its largest lead of the game, 41-34, in the third quarter when junior guard Alexis Martin converted two free throws. St. Frances responded with a run at the end of the quarter to tie the score at 45. Surprisingly, the Panthers made 7 of 8 free throw attempts during the surge. Until then, they had converted 9 of 19.

In the final quarter, Whisonant took over. She opened by making a floater in the lane to give the reigning Washington Catholic Athletic Conference and City Title champions a 47-45 lead it would not lose. Whisonant then scored seven of the Cadets' next 11 points to widen the margin.

"Ashley is an excellent passer; she can create off the dribble and take her man to the basket," said senior guard Chela Turner, who finished with seven points. "I'm just glad to see her penetrate and break to the basket because I know she's going to give a good pass."

Although St. John's committed 28 turnovers, they turned the ball over only four times in the fourth quarter. "We calmed down," Turner said. "We were trying to do too much. We finally started to take our time . . . as a result we made [fewer] mistakes."

Whisonant admitted the team has struggled with turnovers as new players adjust. Only three returning players -- Turner, Marissa Coleman and Akia Thomas -- played often last season. Whisonant transferred to the Northwest private school from Riverdale Baptist.

"We're getting there," Turner said. "It's going to take time to learn to play with each other and not get frustrated."

Said Whisonant, "I'm feeling more comfortable on and off the floor. At first I was scared to make a move because I didn't know where people were going to be. As a group, I see that we're beginning to jell."

St. Frances Academy's Tenisha Foster, center, can't find room between pair of St. John's players during semifinal. Cadets face St. Mary's-Annapolis for title.