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Syracuse women’s basketball: the Orange earn much-needed 89-71 win over Pittsburgh

An all-around effort across the board puts the Orange back in the win column.

NCAA Womens Basketball: Stony Brook at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

After a string of upsets across the ACC this week, it appeared the Syracuse Orange women’s basketball team would follow the same fate after trailing 39-33 at halftime against the Pittsburgh Panthers.

However, the Orange (11-4, 2-2) turned up the heat in the second half, outscoring the Panthers (7-8, 0-4) 56-32 in the game’s last 20 minutes to give ‘Cuse a well-deserved win coming off two straight losses to ACC opponents.

Prior to Syracuse’s second-half surge, it was a back-and-forth contest that featured three different ties and five lead changes. After Syracuse led by as much as 11 points in the first half, Pittsburgh finished the second quarter on a 19-2 run to take a six-point lead at halftime. But multiple runs in the third and fourth quarters gave the Orange its second win against conference opponents.

Georgia Woolley picked up right where she left off against #6 NC State, finishing with her best all-around statistical performance of the season: 23 points, 55% from the field, 7 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 blocks, and 5 steals. Woolley looked great pressuring the Panthers’ guards, leading the change as the Orange forced 19 turnovers which resulted in a 31-1 fastbreak point advantage for Syracuse.

Speaking of defense, Dariauna Lewis and Kyra Wood anchored a defense that generated 10 blocks against Pittsburgh, the most by the team dating back to the 2021 NCAA Tournament. Together, Lewis and Wood combined for 21 points, 13 rebounds, and 7 blocks on 9/13 shooting from the field. The defensive duo, along with the rest of the team, held a streaky Panthers offense to shoot just 42% from the field and 33% from downtown. This included forcing Pittsburgh to shoot just 4/16 from the field and 1/5 from three in the third quarter.

Just when the Panthers were poised to make a late-game run, both Wood and Lewis made momentum-swinging plays on both ends of the court.

And, despite her low efficiency (8/22 from the field and 4/13 from three), Fair’s 22 second-half points gave the Orange all the momentum it needed to move to 10-1 at the Dome and secure its first win of 2023.

After back-to-back losses against the ACC, Syracuse bounced back in a big way on both ends of the court.

Syracuse vs. Pittsburgh by the numbers:

  1. Syracuse now moves to 4-3 this season when trailing at halftime.
  2. The Orange have now won 23 straight games against the Panthers.
  3. After never scoring more than 12 points in a game this year, Georgia Woolley has now chipped in 23 points in back-to-back games.
  4. The Orange outscored the Panthers 31-1 on fastbreak chances.
  5. Syracuse now has as many wins this season (11) as it did all of last season.

Biggest Takeaways of the Game:

The supporting cast guides the Orange to victory: As I stated in the preview for this contest, I grew worried the Orange would become too reliant on opponent shooting luck and generating good play from just one or two players.

On Thursday night, we saw an all-around performance by the Orange. Huge credit to the Wood-Lewis pairing for making defensive plays throughout the game, as well as the Fair-Woolley backcourt combining for 47 points. Even with the lack of scoring, Teisha Hyman’s playmaking led to Syracuse starting off with 10 assists on 15 made baskets. Even role players like Alaina Rice and Cheyenne McEvans had their moments coming off the bench.

Moving forward, let’s hope the team can continue to excel as a unit rather than as individual parts.

Woolley's strong start, Fair’s improved finish: Woolley’s 14 points on 6/11 shooting in the first half helped ‘Cuse get off to a strong start even as the Panthers got hot towards the end of the first half. By halftime, the Fair-Hyman-Rice trio combined for just 7 points on 3/14 shooting. It’s good to see her drop 20+ points in a second straight game as she’s gotten used to the change in scenery.

As for Fair, the efficiency from the field is a huge concern, but her 22 second-half points all but put the game out of reach for Pittsburgh. She also looked much better as a playmaker today, making the right reads in the fourth quarter and setting up teammates like Lewis.

Patience is a virtue: Interestingly, Syracuse didn’t attempt a free throw until there were seven minutes left to go in the fourth quarter. Part of that was Pittsburgh's defense not fouling and the Orange getting most of its baskets in transition.

However, Syracuse looked so much better Thursday night because the team played with an egalitarian mindset, especially in the first and fourth quarters. Every starter for the Orange scored with four minutes left to go in the first quarter, and Syracuse’s guards did a solid job with reading Pittsburgh’s 2-3 defense without forcing the issue or mindlessly turning the ball away.

Next game on the agenda:

Next up for Syracuse is a road matchup against the Clemson Tigers (11-5, 2-2) in what could be a revenge opportunity for the Orange. Last season, Clemson finished 10-21 overall and 3-15 in the ACC, outlasting ‘Cuse 88-69 in the 2022 ACC Tournament.