Women's Basketball

For repeat postseason run, No. 21 Syracuse needs to improve rebounding

Jeff Anderson | Staff Photographer

Briana Day and the Orange will need to pound the glass for a chance to make another deep tournament run.

As Syracuse advanced all the way to last year’s national championship game, weaving its way past quality team after quality team, one thing remained constant — SU rebounded.

Save for its championship game losses, the Orange outrebounded opponents by 18. Syracuse lost five seniors from that team, but the importance of rebounding hasn’t budged.

No. 20 Syracuse, with a plus-2.6 per game rebounding margin that ranks 110th in the country, takes the floor Thursday night in the ACC tournament second round. Should the sixth-seeded Orange win its first game, it will play Duke, which last month outrebounded SU by nine and scored 44 paint points, the most SU has allowed since December 2015. For a repeat postseason run, Syracuse (20-9, 11-5 Atlantic Coast) will need to improve its rebounding.

“Defense and rebounds wins you big games,” SU assistant coach Tammi Reiss said. “Offensive rebounds, we better improve in that area.”

Syracuse has won 20 or more games for eight straight seasons but has been a mediocre rebounding team for years. From 2012-13 to last season, as SU took more 3-pointers each year, its rebounding margin fell. In 2013-14, Syracuse hoisted 771 3-pointers. That year, it had a 2.0 differential. Last season, when its 3-pointers attempted figure shot up to 1,132, its margin slumped to minus-0.8.

“Your rebounding suffers a little bit more,” SU head coach Quentin Hillsman said, “when you have a lot of people on the perimeter. We probably suffer on rebounds from the way we play than anything else.”

The 6-foot-4 center Briana Day ranks third in the ACC in rebounding with 9.3 per game — nearly half of which have come on the offensive glass. Close behind her sits redshirt senior guard Brittney Sykes, who at 5-foot-9 skies over taller defenders with relative ease. Last week, she out-jumped two Wake Forest forwards in Syracuse’s win. Center Bria Day grabs four a game, forward Isabella Slim 4.2, Peterson 3.4 and Gabby Cooper 2.8.

SU crashes four players on the offensive glass while Peterson stays back to try to stop a fast break. Cooper and Peterson grab the occasional long rebound or loose ball off a tip. When Peterson drives or pulls up for a jumper, Cooper stays back. It’s a formula that, combined with a 2-3 zone defense, can allow opponents to feast on the boards. On Feb. 19, Notre Dame grabbed eight offensive boards — in the fourth quarter alone.

“I missed a few box outs,” said Cooper, an All-ACC Freshman Team honoree. “It was like, man, it’s too late and I didn’t have time. It takes a commitment to boxing out, hitting the glass, attacking.”

You can do all these box-out drills, whatever,” Hillsman said. “We have rebounding assignments, weak side, all of this stuff. It doesn’t mean much. It’s about will.”

Sykes, who was named Tuesday to the All-ACC First Team with Peterson, is having the best rebounding season of her career. Not only does she rank second in the conference with 19.3 points per game, she also averages 7.8 boards. She is athletic enough to leap through vast spaces, strong enough to bully people in close combat and, most important, persistent enough to get herself to the places around the rim most likely to yield rebounds. She has streaked in from a distant corner of the floor to gather boards. She also has made hurling, perfectly timed runs from the wings.

Rebounds materialize suddenly, unpredictability and then disappear. Yet balls seem to pop into her hands. She springs off both feet, swarms in violently to tries to get a hand on the ball to extend a possession or tip the ball to a teammate. Such plays have prompted new possessions, elongated others and kept Syracuse in games against bigger teams.

The Orange needs that now more than ever.

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