Syracuse Gets Tournament Revenge Against SDSU

© NCAA & Syracuse Athletics
Monday, Mar 22, 2021 at 1:40 am by Sports Editor
By James Corrigan
CitrusTV’s Women’s Basketball Beat Reporter
The Syracuse Orange started slow, but roared back in the fourth quarter to either win or cut it close. Sounds familiar? SU has lived out this story numerous times this season. But this time was different, not only because of the NCAA tournament setting but because of the opponent, South Dakota State, a walking reminder of a time where the late-game heroics Orange fans have become accustomed to did not arrive.
This time, Syracuse left nothing to chance. Up only two after the third quarter, the Orange (15-8, 9-7 Atlantic Coast) outscored the Jackrabbits (21-4, 14-0 Summit League) 22-7 in the 4th quarter to win 72-55. SU advances to the second round for the 6th time in their last 7 tournament appearances.
“I’m just really proud of our players,” head coach Quentin Hillsman said. “They played tough. It’s been a strange year, but this is the payment. This is the payment and every game has more money in the bank. So I’m just really happy for our players and happy for our program to win this game against a very good team.”
The Orange put together one of its most balanced efforts of the season, as all five starters scored in double figures. Emily Engstler posted perhaps her best performance of the season with 18 points, 12 rebounds (for her seventh double-double of the year), four blocks, and an incredible 6 steals. Digna Strautmane added a double-double of her own with 13 points and 10 rebounds. Tiana Mangakahia returned to the court with 11 points and 7 assists. Kiara Lewis added 14, while Kamilla Cardoso supplemented her 12 points with six blocks. The freshman led the team to 14 total blocks, which is only two shy of the NCAA tournament record.
The result was in contrast to the last meeting between the Orange and Jackrabbits in the 2019 NCAA tournament, where SDSU knocked Syracuse out of the NCAA tournament 75-64 in the second round. In that game, SU faded down the stretch, but the opposite was true tonight as they rolled down the stretch on the back of their pressure. SU forced 22 Jackrabbit turnovers, with 13 of those being steals.
In the second round, a familiar foe awaits in the top-seeded UConn Huskies. The Orange battled the Huskies in two of their previous four tournament appearances: the second round in 2017, and more famously the 2016 NCAA Final. UConn was victorious in those games by 30 and 29 points respectively. The Huskies have won 25 consecutive games against the Orange, with SU’s last win coming on January 2, 1996.
Fatigue could play a role, as four of SU’s five starters played at least 35 minutes against the Jackrabbits. Both Kiara Lewis and Digna Strautmane logged 40-minute games and Tiana Mangakahia played all but one minute. The Orange were without Priscilla Williams, who is still recovering from the injury suffered against Florida State in the ACC tournament. It also missed as well as four other players who were suspended for violating team rules. Only seven players appeared for Syracuse against SDSU.
UConn on the other hand played 11 players in its 102-59 win over High Point in the first round. Syracuse needs to stop Paige Bueckers, who many believe is the premier player in women’s college basketball as a freshman. Despite the tall task ahead, the Orange are up for the task.
“I think we’re ready,” said Emily Engstler when asked about facing the Huskies. “I’m ready, personally. Yeah, I mean, everybody wants to play UConn. I think it would be a very good matchup. People might underestimate us, but I think it’d be good TV.”
Syracuse and UConn will tip-off at 9:00 Tuesday night on ESPN. | @realcorrigan