Weekly Women’s Wrap: Experience Key to Team’s Growth

Syracuse head coach Quentin Hillsmanm yells to his players in the fourth quarter of a second round women’s college basketball game in the NCAA Tournament against Albany in Syracuse, N.Y., Sunday, March 20, 2016. Syracuse won 76-59. (AP Photo/Nick Lisi)
Saturday, Dec 05, 2020 at 3:33 pm by Sports Editor

By James Corrigan

CitrusTV’s Women’s Basketball Beat Reporter 

When the Syracuse women’s basketball team took the floor this past Sunday at Stony Brook, it put out a lineup that, on paper, is the best since Quentin Hillsman came within a game of a National Championship in 2016. The combination of Wooden Award watch-listers Tiana Mangakahia and Kiara Lewis in the backcourt, flanked by returning and proven starters in Digna Strautmane and Amaya Finklea-Guiti, and joined by a top five recruiting class led by the ceiling-less Brazilian Kamilla Cardoso, indicated a balance of young and old, guard and forward, and experience and raw talent that teams crave.

The game itself, however, showed a reality that the Orange, along with every team in the nation, face. Mangakahia, playing in her first game in 615 days following her recovery from breast cancer, played 37 minutes and displayed her world-class intelligence and leadership. However, while she filled up the stat sheet, she wasn’t able to find a consistent offensive rhythm. Lewis struggled in her first game starting alongside Mangakahia, shooting 2 of 8. Cardoso was dominant when she was in the game, but picked up four unnecessary fouls, limiting her minutes to just 13. And fellow five-star freshman Priscilla Williams was unable to hit from the field in the game. Overall, the team shot 29% from the floor including 2-18 from 3, while their defense carried them to a 50-39 win.

The reason behind these struggles is not hard to see, as the tumultuous offseason (or lack thereof), along with an overhauled routine gave Hillsman’s group little time to gain chemistry.

“Going into that first game without having any exhibition games and scrimmages, that’s the first time you’re playing under the whistle,” Hillsman said at his weekly press conference. “You have seven newcomers, and we played six, I believe. So at that point, you have to know that it’s gonna be a little sloppy, you’re gonna make some mistakes.”

It’s unlikely that the bizarre situation surrounding yesterday’s scheduled game will help much. A leak on the Dome’s new roof caused droplets to fall on the court, forcing the game against Division II Lincoln to become a closed-door scrimmage and move to the Melo Center. While the Orange dominated the scrimmage 90-39, playing on a practice court takes away a game-like atmosphere, and while any game is welcome during these times, it is difficult to gage any team’s performance against a non-DI opponent.

There is no doubt that the Orange, with time, will round into form and become an elite team in the ACC, but patience may be needed in the buildup. While Mangakahia’s fitness is no longer in question, she returns to a far different team from the one she last played for in 2019, and with a limited amount of practice, it will take time for the rest of the team to find her wavelength. Shooting will come as the team gets used to playing as a unit again, and a return for Emily Engstler, who missed the opening game and scrimmage, will only serve as a further boost.

Sunday’s home tilt with Penn State (save for any more water-related mishaps) will serve as the first true test of chemistry for this new look Orange team. This is especially true for Cardoso, who one would imagine will become a regular starter very soon after coming off the bench in the opener. With all signs pointing to stardom for the 6’7 freshman, her first matchup against Power 6 competition should only serve to further her growth and increase her rapport with Mangakahia, as the two showed signs of a potent pick and roll combination on Sunday.

The bottom line is the Orange are nowhere near their full potential right now, a fact which should keep ACC coaches up at night.

jucorrig@syr.edu | @RealCorrigan