In case you haven't noticed, it's been a pretty tough stretch for Syracuse sports.
Our once-unstoppable men's basketball team has had a difficult few weeks. The Orange has dropped three of four games after losing to Virginia on Saturday. There have been injuries to Jerami Grant and Baye Keita. And don't forget, our favorite pundits like Dana O'Neil and Pat Forde have lined up to criticize Jim Boeheim.
Even the Syracuse lacrosse team, at one point ranked No. 1 in the nation, has lost two games in a row.
But, it looks like the SU women's basketball team didn't get the memo.
The Orange beat the Wake Forest Demon Deacons, 64-54, at LJVM Coliseum in the first ever meeting between these two teams. Brianna Butler hit five three-pointers and scored a team-high 17 points. Senior center Shakeya Leary had one of her better games of the season. Leary scored 14 points and had eight rebounds, just missing her seventh double-double of the season.
SU finished the regular season on a four game winning streak and reached double-digits in conference wins for the seventh time in franchise history. With the victory, Syracuse clinched the fifth seed in the ACC Tournament. The Orange will play on Thursday at 11 a.m. against the winner of the 12/13 game between Virginia Tech and Clemson. Syracuse beat both of those teams at home this season. If SU advances, the team would likely face No. 13 NC State, who beat the Orange by six earlier this season.
There wasn't any doubt about this game. The Orange led 23-8 midway in the first half and went to intermission leading by 15. The Deacs started the second half on a quick 6-1 run, which cut their deficit to ten. But the Orange responded with back-to-back layups by Leary and Alexis Peterson. Wake never got that Orange lead under ten points until there were about two minutes left. But it was too little, too late. Wake didn't score in the final 1:43 of the game and Syracuse cruised to victory.
The Orange, who uses an aggressive full court press, leads the ACC in turnover margin. It showed on Sunday against a rather sloppy Wake Forest team. The Demon Deacons committed 26 turnovers, more than twice as many as SU. As usual, Brittney Sykes was on the right end on a few fast break plays. Just two minutes into the game, Butler stole the ball and found Sykes in transition for an easy layup. She scored 12 points, had two rebounds and an assist. The sophomore guard has scored 495 points this year, eighth most in SU single-season history. Kayla Alexander set that team record last season with 573.
Although Sykes fell short of her season average of about 17 ppg, Quentin Hillsman probably won't mind. The Orange had a balanced scoring attack, something he emphasized this week.
"Brittney’s playing well," he said. "But it’s more important to have balance than for her to score 30. Right now, we have great balance and hopefully we can continue to have four players with double-figures."
Unlike Wake, Syracuse played a very disciplined game. The point guard trio of Alexis Peterson, Rachel Coffey and Cornelia Fondren only turned the ball over twice. They also chipped in a combined 13 points.
"We have three very great point guards with Alexis, Rachel and Cornelia," Hillsman said. "We knew that we would be deep at the position and all three players are playing well."
After finishing the season strong, Syracuse is now a lock to make the NCAA Tournament. In ESPN's most recent edition of Bracketology on Feb. 24, Charlie Creme projected the Orange to be a five-seed in the Lincoln region. It would be the highest ranking for the Orange in six tournament appearances.