Tennessee’s Mercedes Russell and Bashaara Graves present another challenge in the post for Briana Day

first_imgSIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Briana Day treats every opponent as the same. Bigger or smaller, faster or slower, she repeatedly says her success comes down to her physicality. In an 18-point blowout loss to Louisville on Jan. 25, its last before a nine-game win streak to end the regular season, the Orange wasn’t physical enough. In the best win of the season, on Friday night against top-seeded South Carolina, she held her own against two of the best post players in the country.And with another matchup against two proven bigs on Tennessee, Day will be faced with another challenge in the Elite Eight.“They have a really big girl and then they have another big girl. That’s about it,” Day said. “They’re very good players though. I don’t know, I think we’re going to go up to the game and play hard.”No. 7 seed Tennessee (22-13, 8-8 Southeastern) brings 6-foot-6 Mercedes Russell and 6-foot-2 Bashaara Graves to its meeting against No. 4 seed Syracuse (28-7, 13-3 Atlantic Coast) on Sunday at 3:30 p.m. in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The duo combined for 39 points and 24 rebounds in the Sweet 16 on Friday and helped UT outscore No. 3 seed Ohio State in the paint, 50-22.The 6-foot-4 Day will be the anchor of Syracuse’s 2-3 zone, a scheme that Tennessee struggled against earlier in the season. But the Vols are playing their best basketball of the season and have won six of their last seven. In that stretch, Graves and Russell are averaging a combined 16.5 boards and 17.8 points, creating a two-headed inside presence.AdvertisementThis is placeholder text“They have the post players inside but we just have to match their physicality and play like we’ve been playing,” Day said. “Go out there and play our game plan. Just go out there and play hard.”Since the start of the season, Day has known how important it is to stay out of foul trouble. Even while averaging nearly a double-double last season — 10.4 rebounds and 9.4 points — she was taken out of games and forced to the bench. Entering the year, her positioning was a key focus. She had to use her agility get into the right spots on the defensive end to avoid fouling. And she has.With her twin sister Bria Day emerging as a viable backup center, Briana Day has had more opportunities when she is in the game. In six postseason games, Briana Day has played at least 29 minutes in four of them, a significant bump from her season average of 22.5 minutes, and she’s been able to match up with some of the country’s best forwards, something she wasn’t able to do last year.“I think it’s always a challenge whenever there’s good size,” Russell said. “When a team is playing a zone they can just pack it in and use their length to get shots over them. So I think that’ll really be a challenge.”Staying on the court was a key factor in Syracuse’s win over top-seeded South Carolina on Friday night. Knowing the Gamecocks’ go-to players would be down low with 6-foot-4 Alaina Coates and 6-foot-5 A’ja Wilson, the Orange packed inside and sacrificed open 3s. It’s a plan that worked for SU because Briana Day made a difference.Without being asked about her, Tennessee head coach Holly Warlick mentioned Day’s rebounding ability. And against another set of towering bigs on Sunday, that ability will be important. Comments Facebook Twitter Google+ Published on March 26, 2016 at 4:02 pm Contact Paul: pmschwed@syr.edu | @pschwedslast_img

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