USA TODAY Sports
No. 24/20 Syracuse (23-6, 11-5) defeated No. 13/14 Louisville (23-7, 11-5) in the Dome to clinch the double-bye in the Big East Tournament. The victory ended SU's three game losing streak and any doubt that the Orange could fall out of the NCAA Tournament.
With Louisville down six and 45 seconds left, there was a scramble for the rebound in Syracuse's defensive zone. After a long scrum, senior Lacie Hall emerged with the ball. Hall passed the ball to her fellow senior Carmen Tyson-Thomas who found Kayla Alexander wide open in the post. Alexander banked the ball in to finish off the Cardinals and finish the regular season in poetic fashion. All three seniors were involved in the play.
On Senior Night, the winningest class in school history helped the Syracuse Orange defeat the Louisville Cardinals 68-57. Alexander scored a team-high 16 points and Hall and CTT both had 10. It was SU's first win this season versus a ranked opponent. The trio all agreed it was the biggest win during their four year career at Syracuse.
"We wanted to finish on a strong note," CTT said. "We wanted to make a statement that we could win on this level and we could win with the big dogs."
"I’m really happy for our kids," coach Quentin Hillsman said. "They worked so hard to get to this point and to be in third place and to earn the double-bye is tremendous for this program."
Alexander and Brittney Sykes opened the game with a block on Louisville's first two offensive possessions. Following the Sykes block, Brianna Butler passed to Hall. Hall sent it to Brittney Sykes who hit a three from the left corner.
SU often forced Louisville to use most, if not all, of the shot clock and several times the Cardinals were able to get away with it. Sara Hammond made a short jumper as the shot clock expired to put Louisville up 20-16. Just three minutes later Shoni Schimmel held the ball a few feet away from an animated coach Quentin Hillsman. Schimmel made a three with just three seconds left on the shot clock to put the Cardinals up two. Hillsman was irate.
SU came into the game with only 16.8 turnovers per game, but had 12 in the first half alone. At halftime, the Orange trailed 29-27. But two early plays foreshadowed the easy scoring by Syracuse in the second half. Hall stole the ball and threw a Hail Mary pass to Sykes, who leaked out. Sykes avoided her defender and made a back shoulder catch just like an NFL receiver might do. The freshman guard then spun to the basket and put in an easy lay up.
Just a minute and a half later, Rachel Coffey deflected a pass and Butler grabbed the ball in her own zone. She launched the ball up the court and Sykes was the recipient of another easy scoring opportunity.
Syracuse and Louisville traded baskets in the first few minutes after halftime and then the Orange went on one of their signature second-half streaks. Cornelia Fondren waited at the top of the key for a moment to pounce. She found a seam in the Cardinal defense and wove through the lane for a lay up, which put SU back up 39-38. It was her only basket of the game, but it began a 16-0 SU run. Kayla Alexander added to the lead with a put-back layup and CTT and Coffey hit threes on consecutive offensive possessions.
"We started making plays as a team, instead of as individuals," CTT said.
Lacie Hall finished the run with a three from the left elbow, which put SU up 53-38 with 8:44 to go. Her shot was book-ended by two Louisville air balls. The Cardinals lost control of the game on the scoreboard and they were falling apart on the court.
Louisville went on an 11-3 run, starting with just over four minutes remaining, but it was too little, too late. The Cardinals weren't able to make it a one possession game the rest of the way. Hall converted two free throw attempts and Alexander's final-minute lay in sealed the game.
Sykes had 16 points on 7-12 shooting. CTT had 12 rebounds, including five offensive boards, to go along with 10 points. The Orange out-rebounded the Cardinals 28-17 in the second half.
With the double-bye, SU is off until Sunday. The Orange could use some rest after a triple overtime game on Saturday and a grueling Big East conference schedule.
"We're all hurting...MY knees are hurting right now," Hillsman said.
CTT was especially happy to get the rest especially after having to take a hard math exam on Monday.
SU is ranked in the Top 25 and projected to be a seven seed in the NCAA Tournament. The win on Monday cements the Orange as a tourney team. The Orange's recent three game losing streak had opened up the possibility of falling short.
"I think we’re in now," Hillsman said, and smiled. "But I've been here before where I thought we were in and we weren’t."
For Kayla Alexander, the work isn't over. She can't take anything for granted.
"When we’re there (playing in the tournament), that’s when I’ll be like, we accomplished our goal," she said before reiterating her favorite cliche once again. "Until then, one game at a time."