Syracuse WBB: February Temperature Check

Syracuse Orange guard Kiara Lewis (23) drives on Notre Dame Fighting Irish forward Madelyn Westbeld (34) in a game between Syracuse and Notre Dame, Sunday Jan. 31, 2021 at the Carrier Dome Syracuse N.Y. Dennis Nett |
Tuesday, Feb 02, 2021 at 10:27 am by Sports Editor

By James Corrigan

CitrusTV’s Women’s Basketball Beat Reporter

February may be the shortest month of the year, but it follows one of the longest and most eventful months in recent memory for the Syracuse women’s basketball team.

For starters, the team didn’t play for the first sixteen days of the month. A COVID pause threatened to derail what looked to be a promising campaign from the start, but they remained committed to their fitness and their game, working out individually through their two week hiatus from practice. They returned to the court having not played a game in four weeks due to combined pauses between the Orange and their opponents, and then things got real interesting. Let’s break down the good and bad of what has been a wild two weeks.


The Orange turn red hot whenever they step on to the Dome floor, with even its new air conditioners unable to cool them off. Beginning with their 99 point explosion against Miami on the 17th, the team averaged 87 PPG in their last four home games and shot 48% from the floor. They’ve righted the ship from deep as well inside the Loud House, averaging nearly 13 three point makes a game and shooting it at a 43% clip, 11 points above their overall season average. All this points to a perfect 6-0 record on the Hill. The only problem is…


As good as the Orange have been from deep at home, they are just as bad on the road. They have missed 100 total threes away from home, going 31-131 for a 24% mark. The team has not won an away game since December 20, and their 3-3 mark includes an opening day trip to Stony Brook where they put up just 50 points against their America East opposition. It’s not how you start, of course, it’s how you finish, which leads to…


In their last three games, the Orange have combined to shoot 53% from the floor in the 4th quarter, and scored 20, 27, and 23 in the 4th quarters against Clemson, Pittsburgh, and Notre Dame respectfully. The results: finishing the Pitt game on a 20-2 run, finishing the ND game on a 26-4 run, and coming back from 25 down at Clemson to force OT. Finishing strong has become SU’s calling card, but when it comes to consistency…


The Orange trailed ND by 7 going into the 4th quarter, led Pitt by just 5 going to the final five minutes of their game, and trailed by 25 at Clemson in the first half, and fell in OT to the Tigers. Not to mention the team’s paltry offensive performance at #1 Louisville prior. Different players have had to emerge to keep the team afloat during difficult stretches in games, such as Maeva Djaldi Tabdi against Pitt, who put up 17 points in her best outing of the year by far. In the end, though, the stars have shined for SU, leading to…


Kamilla Cardoso won her second straight ACC Rookie of the Week award this week, usurping her teammate Priscilla Williams, who was ROW the week prior. Cardoso’s play has made every Orange fan giddy with excitement over what’s to come, as she averages over 14 points, grabs nearly 9 rebounds, and records 3.3 blocks per game, which leads the ACC by more than a full block per contest. She also leads the ACC with a 61.2 FG%.

Tiana Mangakahia has done more than her fair share of box score stuffing as well. She tops the ACC in assists and sits at second in the nation with 7.8 per game. She is the only player in the ACC to record a double digit assist game, and has done so in five of her last six games. She was named a top ten finalist for the Nancy Lieberman award for the third time in her career, and had one of her best game of the season against Notre Dame as she recorded 19 points on 6-12 shooting and 11 assists. The stars have shined for the Orange, but just not all at once…


Before her 19 point outburst against the Irish, Mangakahia had combined for just 9 points in her previous three games. Kiara Lewis has lit up the stat sheet of late, putting up 23 against UNC and 25 at Clemson, but her shooting numbers have dipped to 34% on the year, and she has had ACC games of 3-18 and 3-15 from the floor. Priscilla Williams electrified against Miami with 26 points on 9-9 shooting, but has only shot 26% in her five games since. Even the brilliant Cardoso started the season slow, and has had several games where she has not received the ball as much as she should, whether it be due to foul trouble or game flow. The most consistent presence on the team is arguably Emily Engstler, who has put up five double doubles off the bench and gives the side a jolt of energy each time she steps on the floor.

This is where things stand leading up to tonight’s clash with Georgia Tech in Atlanta. The Yellow Jackets are one game ahead of the Orange at 7-2 in ACC play, and come in as the conference’s top defensive team. SU’s road struggles combined with GT’s defensive prowess may give neutral observers pause in backing the Orange, but they can pull out the victory IF they remain patient and play within themselves. Of the five games where Syracuse has taken their fewest number of FG attempts this year, four have been wins. This is no accident, as they are better in the flow of an offense and when they look for an open shot. This is especially true of Mangakahia, who has the tendency to force at times, but her playmaking ability more than makes up for it.

With their toughest games ahead of them in February, Syracuse enters its most important stretch of the season. They can either remain near the top of the ACC table, or slip towards the pack. Their performances on the road will be key in ensuring the former, and their clash with the Yellow Jackets is only step one. | @RealCorrigan