The Syracuse Orange women's basketball team went on a magical run just like the men's team did. But unfortunately, they too fell short of their ultimate goal: winning a national title.
SU's women got themselves a round further -- to the championship game -- but the Connecticut Huskies, as ESPN told you all week and all game tonight, were just too good to beat. The Orange started down 9-0 en route to an 82-51 defeat.
The media narratives and history will tell you it was just another blowout en route to UConn and Breanna Stewart's coronation. They'd be wrong.
Syracuse's jitters were obvious over the first few minutes, but once shook, you saw a different team on the floor. The Orange would push the Huskies repeatedly, despite the size disadvantage on the floor. They'd get plenty of chances to score, but the shots wouldn't fall. Coach Quentin Hillsman's lack of emphasis on shooting percentage -- a gift in the first five games of this NCAA Tournament run -- wound up a bit of a curse in this one. Questionable shots wouldn't go down. And at many junctures, neither would good ones either. And that, more than UConn's march to history, is the story line that should get a bit more press.
Don't take the above for sour grapes. Far from it. UConn is the greatest program women's basketball has seen, and this was one of its greatest seasons in a long line of then. Stewart was also one of its greatest players, in a long line of Huskies to receive praise similar praise. They won the only way they know how: with a stunning amount of physicality, speed and timely shooting. Syracuse's women's team just learned this year how to step on throats when the game could teeter in one direction or the other. UConn's made it an art form perfected night-in and night-out over decades.
Stewart was the game's brightest star tonight, scoring 24 points to go with 10 boards and six assists. But that doesn't cloud (to us, anyway -- no comment on ESPN) what the Orange women did. Cornelia Fondren led SU with 16 points while taking on plenty of the physical toll of playing UConn. Alex Petersen and Brittney Sykes also scored in double digits, notching 11 and 12 points, respectively. Bria Day managed five rebounds to lead SU on a night when the team struggled on the boards due to the aforementioned disadvantage in terms of size.
Syracuse lost by 31 points. And yet, they have nothing to be ashamed of. This juggernaut of a team for UConn was not to be stopped, and if you didn't believe it on the court all night, ESPN was happy to tell you while delivering a PSA for a program that needs no introduction. In some ways, the Orange were just another victim on the road to perfection. We also know otherwise.
We know what this group accomplished, and how this Syracuse women's team went further than any before them at SU by several rounds. We know that this was culmination of Q's vision for this program when he took it over 10 years ago, possessing no history or success. We know that, despite what any commentator or box score may tell you, this Orange team tested UConn the way few have. The 16-0 run in the third quarter never truly had the Huskies "on their heels," but it was about as close as you'll get a team like that to feeling a little pressure.
Not all 31-point losses are created equal -- a saying I just made up in terms of semantics, but not the sentiment behind it. The Syracuse sports community rallied behind this Orange women's team unlike any other time before. There will be plenty more opportunities to look back on this season fondly and talk about why it was so important. For now, we'll just say thanks for a great run, SU women. We haven't always been the best at supporting you. But hopefully that changed for good after this.