Orange Streaking at Just the Right Time
By Christopher Sacchi
CitrusTV’s Women’s Basketball Beat Reporter
It’s mid-February, which means talk to the NCAA tournament is heating up.
And right now, riding a three-game win streak, Syracuse Women’s Basketball are trying to get into the conversation.
Wins over Boston College on the road, No. 5 Louisville at home, and at North Carolina have vaulted the Orange (13-11, 7-6 Atlantic Coast) as a team that is hard to ignore come tournament time. The three-game streak is tied for the best run this season since victories in the first three games.
Before the match with Boston College, the Orange were coming off a season low 41 points in a loss at UVA and looking for a spark. Plus, senior starting two guard Gabrielle Cooper was set to miss the game because of illness. Other players would have to step up.
Freshman Teisha Hyman made her first career start, and to say she stepped up is an understatement. She began slow with two early fouls in the first quarter, but once she shook off the nerves, she was a key component of the win: 16 points, 7-10 shooting, and an outstanding 7 steals.
Also, three graduate transfers who had seen their minutes drop since the start of ACC play had to improve their game.
Elemy Colome enjoyed the extended play and the chance to play close to home, scoring all of her season high seven points in the first half. The transfer from Rhode Island did not miss a shot or free throw. Brooke Alexander and Whisper Fisher both found the bottom of the net in their opportunities as well.
Overall, The Orange shot 46% from the field, their highest mark since November. Save for the first 38 seconds of the game, SU lead for the entirety of the night.
After the offense fueled the win over Boston College, it was the defense that was key in knocking off the number five team in the nation.
All season the press has been a staple for coach Quentin Hillsman, but it was a slight change in the press defense that made the difference against Louisville. Instead of zone press, it was man-to-man.
Teams would run the ball up the floor against the zone press and get what were basically transition opportunities in losses like the 30-point home drubbing to Duke, or another significant home loss to Georgia Tech. These fast break chances would lead SU’s opposition to four-on-three or three-on-two looks charging towards the basket.
The man press kept players in front and allowed the defense to settle while still applying adequate pressure. SU forced 22 turnovers to stifle Louisville, and a team with a roaring offense all year shot just 35.2%.
And in the latest win over North Carolina in Carmichael Arena, the first quarter was a back-and-forth affair with SU leading by just one point. With two teams ranked similarly in the ACC, it looked like it could have been a game that is close until the final buzzer.
Instead, the Orange outscored the Tarheels 57-40 over the final three quarters and put together an all-around effort on both sides of the ball.
Kiara Lewis was scoreless in the close first quarter, yet she caught fire with seven points during a 9-0 run for SU to open the second. Once she heated up, so did SU. After that run, UNC would never get as close as it was at the end of the first.
Lewis ended the night with 17 points, as did Digna Strautmane, who erupted in the third quarter with 13 on a perfect 5-5 field goals. After seven points combined in the first two wins of this streak, Strautmane reminded everyone she still has a key role on the team, topping that mark in just once quarter of play.
Emily Engslter notched 16 points and an even more impressive 15 rebounds while splashing 4 threes. Overall, nine of the 10 SU players that earned played time scored on a night when the offense shot 44.4%.
In contrast, UNC shot 29.2% on the night. The Syracuse defensive pressure stifled the offense of the Tarheels. Their man-to-man press in the backcourt that transitions into a 2-3 zone has become the winning formula on defense for head coach Quentin Hillsman. Man press against No. 5 Louisville was instrumental, and it continued in another must-win.
This Women’s basketball team has battled adversity all season. After being written off after some tough losses in January, this team has a chance to earn its longest win streak of the season this Sunday against Clemson.
Both the offense and defense have seen improvement to get them to this point. Hyman has provided a great boost whether she starts or comes off the bench, Emily Engstler is finding more consistency with her scoring, and Digna Strautmane’s big game against UNC solidifies her as another shooting threat. Plus, there is depth from the grad transfers and other young players that can be used if needed. Defensively, the man-to-man press has been a perfect way for Hillsman to maintain his style of play, while still keeping teams from running the ball up the floor.
If Hillsman’s team continues to storm through the end of the season, don’t be surprised to hear this team in the thick of the NCAA tournament chatter.
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