Orange Win Streak Driven by the Press
By Christopher Sacchi
CitrusTV Women’s Basketball Beat Reporter
All season long, Syracuse Head Coach Quentin Hillsman has stayed true to his preferred style of play on defense: full court pressure on virtually every possession.
“You’ve got the quote for your story; I’m never going to stop,” Hillsman said after his team’s 30-point home loss to Duke in January, after being asked multiple teams if he wanted to change things up.
Now, after a slight tweak from the zone press to a one-on-one coverage in the press, Hillsman’s commitment to his play style is paying off just at the right time.
SU (15-11, 9-6 Atlantic Coast) has extended the win streak to a season high five games after a 59-46 victory over Clemson (7-20, 3-13 Atlantic Coast) on Thursday night, and before that a 74-56 win over Pittsburgh (4-22, 1-14 Atlantic Coast) on Sunday. Coach Hillsman’s press defense causing turnovers has been instrumental in the Orange’s late season run, creating a number of positive outcomes on both sides of the ball. Opposing offenses are finding it hard to get into a productive rhythm. On the other side, transition opportunities as a result of these turnovers has jumpstarted the offense and promoted ball movement in the half court set.
Ever since the win over No. 5 Louisville (24-3, 13-2 Atlantic Coast), Hillsman has almost exclusively used a one-on-one press defense instead of the zone press. The results have been staggering. In the last five Syracuse wins, opponents are averaging over 20 turnovers a game (20.6,) and in the last two games that number is 22 per game. Getting pressed man-to-man from the inbounds onward is physically and mentally draining for the opponent offensive.
“They got a lot of turnovers, we got the ball back, and we pretty much just ran the clock down,” Hillsman said after the latest win over Clemson.
Forcing turnovers has a variety of positive outcomes for a team. The opposing team, of course, does not get a chance to shoot and multiple possessions without a shot can severely hurt the rhythm of even the best offensive units. Take their win over No. 5 Louisville for example. The team coughed the ball up 22 times against Syracuse, and its 51 points stands as the lowest offensive scoring output this season.
Overall during the streak, opponents are shooting just 37.1% from the floor. That percentage is lower than every ACC team’s average efficiency this season, save for 4-22 Pittsburgh.
Another benefit of opponent giveaways is not only more shots overall, but better shots. Fastbreak chances are more preferable to trying to score against a set defense in the half court. The Orange offense has averaged a scoring clip of 70.4 points per game during this streak, an improvement on the 68.6 mark for the entirety of the season. Fastbreak chances also have the benefit of promoting offensive rhythm by way of easier shots and faster play, which could lead to more ball movement as more players become involved.
“We’re just sharing the ball, knocking down open shots, that’s something we’ve been doing on our streak,” lead guard Kiara Lewis said after the win over Pittsburgh.
In the latest win over Clemson, SU racked up 24 points from the 27 Clemson giveaways. This was especially crucial in a game where the half-court offense left a bit to be desired, as the Orange went 2-14 in the second quarter and 2-16 in the fourth quarter. However, strong runs in the first and third quarters were fueled by Clemson turnovers converting to Syracuse points.
One player example of this offensive boon is Emily Engslter’s increased assist numbers. She is putting up 4.8 assists per game during the streak, and five in both of the wins this week. The highest-rated recruit in program history, hailing from New York City, even pulled out an over-the-head pass in transition after a Syracuse steal.
“I did not expect her to do that,” Lewis said with a smile postgame. “I thought she was gonna take it herself, but then she passed it to me.”
The Orange are streaking at just the right time. Just ask Coach Hillsman. He knows how crucial these wins can be.
“One of the things they say the committee looks at is how you finish the season. So we just finish the season strong, just try to make out move, and play in the NCAA Tournament.”
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