Syracuse crushes Iowa State, 85-65, in NCAA Tournament opener
Ally Moreo | Photo Editor
STORRS, Conn. — Alexis Peterson and Brittney Sykes have lifted Syracuse all season. The two leading scorers in the Atlantic Coast Conference have been co-alphas in the Orange attack, and the two main pieces opposing coaches focus on.
The triangle-and-two defense that Iowa State runs is designed to put an extra defender on the opposing team’s two best players. The SU guards had fewer driving lanes, but there was space open on the wings. So they fed Gabby Cooper.
She made the first shot for SU, a 3-pointer from the corner. Three possessions later, she made another one. And then another one two possessions after that.
“The shots that Cooper was getting early, that was part of the plan,” Iowa State head coach Bill Fennelly said.
“The plan was not to go 2-for-18 in the first quarter.”
Head coach Quentin Hillsman set a clear goal from the beginning of the season. He wanted his team to prove that last year’s run to the national championship game was no fluke. Eighth-seeded Syracuse (22-10, 11-5 Atlantic Coast) took the first step in doing that, using a massive first quarter to set the tone in an 85-65 drubbing over ninth-seeded Iowa State (18-13, 9-9 Big 12) in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. SU will play top-seeded and undefeated Connecticut on Monday in a rematch of last year’s national championship.
The first quarter ended with SU up 25 on the Cyclones. While the scoreboard was close the rest of the way, the damage had already been done.
“We weren’t knocked out,” Fennelly said about the team’s outlook after first quarter, “but we were wobbling pretty bad.”
Cooper’s hot 3-point shooting forced the Iowa State defense to adjust and start covering her. That meant new scoring opportunities for Sykes.
She began by hitting a 3-pointer from the wing. The next possession she drove right, crossed over left and pulled up for a flailing jumper, drawing a foul for an and-1.
All the while, Iowa State struggled to break the Orange pressure. On some possessions, 20 seconds were used trying to get the ball past midcourt before running a weave at the top of the key to search for a crack in the defense.
The Cyclones averaged just 12 turnovers per game, one of the best marks in the country. They committed that many in the first half alone.
“Our defense feeds our offense,” Sykes said. “Our defense is ultimately going to carry us through this Tournament.”
ISU’s adjustments were enough to win the second quarter by four, limiting the Orange to just 12 points. Ten of those came from Sykes, and SU still entered halftime with a 21-point advantage.
In the third quarter, ISU managed to cut its deficit as low as 17 on five different occasions. Each time was met with a counterstrike from either Peterson (25 points), Cooper (24) or Sykes (28), who combined to score nearly all of the Orange’s points.
It came as a surprise when Syracuse was selected as a No. 8 seed to begin with, something Fennelly alluded to. The team that had been ranked inside the Top 25 for much of the season showed why that spot seemed low on Saturday.
Now, the Orange gets a national championship game rematch against UConn, winners of 108 straight games. Syracuse will be a major underdog, but it’s not a position the team seems to mind.
Just like it always has — at the start of the season and even when it was up 22 late in the fourth against ISU — the Orange will pressure the ball and shoot 3s. It’s the formula that’s fueled it up to this point and that isn’t going to change.
“We always talk about … the lifetime of the opportunity,” Hillsman said. “And the lifetime of the opportunity is 40 minutes. So there’s no sense for you to go out there now and start pulling the reigns back.”
Published on March 18, 2017 at 5:21 pm