The UConn women’s basketball team’s road to a fifth-straight national championship resumes Monday in Storrs. After a 116-55 dismantling of No. 16 Albany Saturday afternoon, the Huskies take on No. 8 Syracuse Monday night at 6:30 p.m. at Gampel Pavilion in a rematch of last year’s national championship game. Daily Campus Sports Editor Dan Madigan reached out to Tomer Langer, Sports Editor of The Daily Orange – the independent student newspaper of Syracuse, New York – to get an in depth look at this year’s Orange team and their matchup against undefeated UConn.
Madigan: UConn and Syracuse last met in last year’s national championship game, with the Orange losing 82-51. Has last year’s success and title game loss been a motivating factor for this year’s team?
Langer: From what the players and coach Quentin Hillsman has said, it’s not specifically last year’s loss to UConn as much as last year’s tournament run. Before last year, Syracuse had never made it to a Sweet 16, and then it goes on the incredible run to the national title game. The goal this year has been to prove that run wasn’t a fluke. Obviously, they weren’t happy with the loss and would love a chance to beat UConn, but I think it’s bigger than just that game. One interesting little nugget is that, as of the start of this season back in November, star point guard Alexis Peterson hadn’t watched back the national championship loss.
M: What is the biggest difference between last year’s Syracuse team and this year’s squad?
L: The depth. Last year’s Syracuse team had a nine-player rotation it could go to, and relied on its bench a lot. That’s big for a team that presses all 40 minutes and uses a lot of energy consistently pushing the pace of play. It hasn’t hurt Syracuse too much this year, but those additional resources could help an SU team that’ll need everything on Monday. But, at the same time, SU’s two best players (Alexis Peterson and Brittney Sykes) are better than they were a year ago. So if anything, this year’s team can still score a lot, it’s just been more reliant on its top players. But the style (press all game, try and create turnovers and shoot a lot of threes) is the same.
M: Alexis Peterson is one of the most dynamic scoring and passing threats in the country. Is this team completely dependent on her contributing night in and night out, or are there other players that can carry the scoring load?
L: Well, first and foremost, Brittney Sykes could carry the scoring load just as well. Sykes averages just four fewer points than Peterson and is also another dynamic scorer, especially with the 3-point shot she added to her game this year. The question for the team all year has been finding a third scorer to supplement those two. Against Iowa State on Saturday, that was Gabby Cooper who hit eight threes for a season-high 24 points. Cooper and Sykes combined for 36 first-half points yesterday and it was interesting to see, because it was one of the few times that Peterson just ran the offense more than looking, and needing, to score herself. But overall, for most of the season, it’s been both Peterson and Sykes shouldering the load.
M: What is the Orange’s biggest weakness, and conversely, what has to happen on Syracuse’s end in order to have a chance at upsetting UConn?
L: The Orange’s two biggest weakness are probably its lack of solid depth and, at times, its rebounding. As I mentioned before, there have been times this year when SU needed another scoring option and didn’t get it. I think the game that can tell us the most about this upcoming matchup is when SU played Notre Dame, another terrific team, one month ago. Syracuse, which lost rather badly to UND twice last year, led for three quarters and was playing fantastic basketball. It collapsed in the fourth quarter, and part of that came by allowing eight offensive rebounds in the frame, including five in the last four minutes. For SU to be able to win tomorrow, it’ll need a third, and maybe fourth scorer to emerge, its stellar backcourt will need to play up to par and it’ll have to be limit UConn’s possessions. Much easier said than done.