The Syracuse Orange Women's basketball team is playing for their first National Championship on Tuesday. Yes, you read that right. In a year filled with firsts, the Orange will face their toughest opponent of the season in UConn for a chance at all of the glory tomorrow night. Before we ge to that, let's focus on just how this team handled Washington to earn that right.
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As soon as the remainder of the net had been cut by Coach Quentin Hillsman, it was time to focus on the next opponent. Sure, Q let his team bask in the glow of victory, but every game is part of a business trip. The model is simple: Do what you came to do and then you can have all the fun you want.
Tuesday's pep rally was a great way to sent both teams on their way to their respective Final Fours. It also showed that the Syracuse community was finally ready to embrace the women's team as their own.
Fast-forward to last night. the Connecticut Huskies had just beaten Oregon State the only way they know, stomping on throats and taking names. None of that would matter for the next 40 minutes. The Orange and UW just had to focus on their own gameplans from start to finish and they would be playing for the championship.
That is exactly what Syracuse did. They seized control of the tempo as soon as the ball was tipped, throwing Washington off-balance halfway through the first quarter. The Orange had the hot hand from the get-go, sinking a majority of their shots and grabbing rebounds on both ends of the floor. Senior guard Cornelia Fondren drove to the basket on several occasions during the first quarter racking up some early points for her team.
Just about everything was clicking for Syracuse.
The Huskies' leading scorer, junior guard Kelsey Plum, was unable to find her rhythm only scoring six points in the first half, including two free throws. Redshirt senior forward Talia Walton almost single-handedly kept Washington in the game, sinking six of her eight threes over the first 20 minutes of the game. After being down by as much as 19 points, the Huskies cut it back down to 12 by the end of the half.
The Orange would not be rattled so easily. Every time the Huskies seemed to be gaining even the slightest bit of momentum, Syracuse had an answer. They forced 18 turnovers and scored 20 points off of those turnovers. When Plum finally found her stroke two minutes into the fourth quarter, the Orange countered. In the process, senior guard Brianna Butler tied and then broke the single-season record for threes made.
All nine players that saw action for Syracuse scored. Four of them hit double-digits, adding to the difficult task that Washington had been presented. The final points for the Huskies came with 5:37 left to play. The Orange's staunch defense made sure of that by being aggressive on the boards and causing increasing discomfort with timely steals.
Walton led all scorers with 29 points, but her and Plum's late effort was not nearly enough to pull off the upset. Alexis Peterson and Brittney Sykes paced Syracuse with 18 and 17 points respectively. Butler added 12 on four threes and Fondren ended with 10. Junior center Briana Day, Fondren, and Butler played a huge part on the glass, combining for 28 of the team's 46 rebounds.
The Championship game is set to tip-off at 8:30pm E.T. tomorrow night. If the Orange play like they did in this game, it could be a fun match-up, albeit daunting one, with UConn. Seizing control of the pace will be key to keeping Syracuse from becoming another victim in the Huskies path.