The city of Syracuse felt warmer temperatures in the air earlier this week. The usual snow flurries and the mounds of them that accumulate in the 3-1-5 turned to rain showers for a few days. May it be a tease or not, it makes you think of spring and tournament time, doesn’t it?
Regardless, we are about a week away from the start of the real fun. The ACC Women’s Basketball Tournament tips off on February 28 from Greenboro, N.C., and no, Jim Boeheim will not be there for this one.
Turns out, there will be some value for the Syracuse women’s basketball team (20-7, 8-6 ACC) playing in Greensboro beginning next week. At worst, it will be a primer for Syracuse’s NCAA tournament bid, where the Orange are currently projected as a No. 7 seed. It will also be necessary experience for the young Syracuse program, who just completed the ninth consecutive season of 20 or more wins under head coach Quentin Hillsman.
Syracuse received some good news on Tuesday afternoon. The Orange moved back into the rankings after pulling off three straight wins versus Wake Forest, No. 17 Duke, and Pittsburgh. Syracuse earned a No. 24 ranking in the USA Today/WCBA Coaches’ Poll. SU also earned one vote in the Associated Press poll, checking in at No. 41 in the nation. Perhaps they didn’t get the memo that the Orange are doing well?
Peas in a Pod
Two teammates and starters who are vital to the Orange’s success in the 2017-18 season are guards Tiana Mangakahia and Miranda Drummond. Two teammates with two different backgrounds, playing for one cause.
Mangakahia, a sophomore, and Drummond, a redshirt junior, are the Orange’s top two scorers this season. Mangakahia leads the team in assists and steals, and Drummond is the team’s top three-point shooter. The duo is also 1-2 in minutes played this season.
So they spend a lot of time on the court together -- that’s well known. Is that the case off the court?
In short, they’re best friends.
“We hang out, like, 95% of the time, when we’re not (playing basketball),” Drummond said after Tuesday’s practice. “We have a good connection. That started early, even in the summer.”
“We always go everywhere together,” Tiana said. “If we’re going to get dinner, we’ll go together. If she’s studying, I’ll just be with her, either doing work or on my phone chilling.”
An old sports adage is that “It’s not about the hours you put in, it’s what you put into the hours.” Though the two are spending the bulk of their free time with each other, this adage need not apply.
“We actually, really, do nothing,” Drummond said with a chuckle. “We kind of just sit on our phones. We really don’t do anything. We’re not that exciting.”
Mangakahia agreed, “We don’t really do much.”
There is one commonality between the two “besties.” They both love Netflix.
Miranda’s show of choice is Black Mirror. Tiana enjoys The Fosters.
“We don’t really agree on a show to watch,” according to Drummond.
Regardless of whether they agree on a TV series to watch or not, the pair of standout guards translate their friendship from their personal time to the time on the court.
“They definitely have a good relationship,” Coach Q said about the two. “They got this connection on the floor, where they can get backdoor action and things like that. They do a good job of playing together.”
Syracuse earned win no. 20 on Monday — already matching its total from last season. including postseason play.
Syracuse is feeling it, heading into the last week in February.
“I think we’re ready for (the ACC Tournament),” Mangakahia said. “The win against Duke has helped us be more confident in our game. We can compete against all the other teams.”
A team that began the season with four new starters, including two transfers and two true freshmen, now has the moxie it was looking for all along. They might be catching it at the right time.
“It definitely had to slowly build,” Mangakahia continued. “I think we’ve gotten to that stage where it’s coming to the end, and we have to either keep it going or we’re going to lose. There’s still more improvement that we need to work on, but I think it’s getting there.”
Mangakahia has taken notice of some of these improvements, and especially within one teammate.
“At the beginning of the season, I had turnovers,” Mangakahia continued. “That’s improved since the Virginia game. Amaya (Finklea-Guity), she’s improved a lot... Individual things that we can all bring and contribute to the team.”
One noticeable improvement has been from forward Digna Strautmane. The Latvian freshman has scored at least 10 points in seven of her last eight games, including three straight games of scoring 20+points in that span.
“It’s (about) being comfortable and playing,” Q said about Strautmane. “You cannot ever underestimate what playing (time) is, and she’s getting on the court, in-game experience, and it’s been crucial for her.”
Mangakahia, Drummond, and the rest of the Orange have two games remaining on the schedule before the 2017-18 season concludes. The Orange travel to Chapel Hill, N.C. to face the struggling North Carolina Tar Heels (14-13, 4-10) on Thursday, and they end the regular season on Sunday when Boston College (7-20, 2-12) comes to town.
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Corey Crisan is the Orange Women’s Basketball reporter for TNIAAM. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @cdcrisan for coverage all season long.