The 2017-2018 version of the Syracuse Orange women’s basketball team looked as sharp as a tack for the first part of the season. A new and re-tooled starting lineup that retained guard Gabby Cooper as its lone returning starter was somewhat pressured to gel quickly throughout non-conference play.
“I don’t think (we’re) at where we expected to be,” Orange forward Miranda Drummond said following Tuesday’s practice. “We should’ve won some games (that) we didn’t. The Florida State game was a good win, but we definitely should’ve won a few more games.”
A Valid Point
A couple of recent games that Drummond might be referring to include the Orange’s recent five-point and four-point losses to conference rivals Virginia and NC State, respectively. The Orange scored, at the time, a season-low 63 points at Virginia. The Orange fell flat in the second half and scored only 27 points versus the Cavaliers. Even so, Syracuse was down only one after three quarters in that game.
“We need to improve our rebounding,” Drummond noted. “A lot of it comes down to our energy and how bad we want to win. We haven’t done that the past few games.”
Syracuse was out-rebounded by one—38-37—at Virginia, but the loss at NC State confirms Drummond’s point of emphasis.
The Wolfpack out-rebounded the Orange 45-31 in its home win. Amaya Finklea-Guity led the Orange with five boards in that game, while NC State’s Chelsea Nelson collected a team-high 12 rebounds.
In addition to a lack of rebounding effort, the Orange shot 35.3% from the field, making only 18 field goals versus NC State. Tiana Mangahakia (16) and Gabby Cooper (11) were the only Orange players to score in double-figures. Drummond contributed nine points in the loss.
Re-Tooling, Not Rebuilding
The Orange offense has gone under a renaissance since retooling for the new season. With leaders like Alexis Peterson and Brittney Sykes leaving for the WNBA, Coach Quentin Hillsman had to find a new set of keys to the car in 2017-2018. He has done that with Drummond, who is among ACC league leaders in three-point shooting, and with Mangakahia as his starting point guard, who has been an all-around contributor in her first season at Syracuse.
Mangakahia’s 44 points in Syracuse’s first conference win versus Georgia Tech were the second most scored in Carrier Dome history. She also set a new program record for her 20-of-21 free throws made in that same game.
“We needed all 44 of those points for us to win the game,” Coach Q mentioned to the media. “She went out and did that... She’s doing whatever she needs to do for us to win the basketball game.”
Mangakahia has not relinquished her spot as the NCAA’s leader in assists. As of Tuesday January 16, Mangakahia still leads the nation with 10.1 dimes per game.
“(We’re) 14-4, it’s a pretty solid record,” Coach Q said. “We don’t have any bad losses and we beat some really good teams.”
Q also noted the progress that this bunch as made with a third of the regular season left.
“I’m really happy with where we are at right now,” he said. “Obviously, you want to have a better record in conference, but at the end of the day, you’re playing on the road and in tough environments... We have a lot of road games left, so we’re looking forward to getting on the road and getting a couple.”
As of Tuesday, Syracuse is 2-3 in ACC play. Both wins have come at the Carrier Dome. The Orange will have a handful chances at getting a road conference win, beginning this Thursday at Miami.
“We’re there most of those games, and I think we have a chance of winning at the end of those games,” Coach Q said. “We’re a very young team. Gabby (Cooper’s) our lone returning starter and the other returners are either not playing right now or not playing many minutes. We have nine, ten newcomers playing on the court in one of the best conferences in the country. It’s tough to win on the road.”
The Orange have road games against Miami, Boston College, Wake Forest, Pittsburgh, and North Carolina remaining on its schedule.
Completing the Process
Syracuse’s women’s basketball program is one of its strongest athletic programs, benchmarked by Coach Q. His word of comfort in where his team is draws an interesting parallel to Drummond’s comments about the team not finishing a few games over the course of the season. One one hand, Drummond noted that the team had trouble finishing games, while Coach Q understands the nuances of having new players going out in tough environments - perhaps including the Carrier Dome - and trying to win tough games.
Syracuse is definitely battle tested. A 1-2 record versus ranked opponents - including losses versus then-#3 Mississippi State and at #2 Notre Dame, shouldn’t be much to shy away from. Considering the Orange returned one starter and inserted two freshmen and two transfers into that starting lineup, Syracuse’s season is nothing to scoff at by any means.
Welcome to Miami
The Orange will tip at Miami (12-6, 2-3 ACC) on Thursday at 7:00 p.m. EST. The Orange and Hurricanes boast similar records in conference play, and Coach Q reveals the key to success versus a fast-paced Hurricanes team.
“They’re always a good, tough basketball team,” Coach Q noted. “They play fast in transition. We got to get back in transition if we don;t stop the ball and play well on the defensive end.”
More from Coach Q
Watch and listen to Coach Q (and his awesome glasses’) comments for the media from Tuesday’s practice:
Follow the Author
Corey Crisan is the Orange Women’s Basketball reporter for TNIAAM. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @cdcrisan for coverage all season long.