Turnaround in final 6 minutes leads SU women’s basketball to WNIT quarterfinals

first_imgIt only took around 37 minutes, but finally, Juanita Ward did what no one else on the Syracuse women’s basketball team could do Friday night.She stopped Virginia Commonwealth’s D’Andra Moss. Moss looked to have an easy layup. Out of nowhere, Ward came flying to meet her, sending Moss’ feeble attempt out of bounds with a fury. Fired up, Ward exchanged a salute with SU point guard Tasha Harris.Ward’s block was part of a six-minute stretch that changed everything for the Orange. After a seesaw battle overall in which SU struggled to stop Moss all game, those six minutes led Syracuse (25-10) to a 74-59 victory over the Rams (22-13) inside Manley Field House in the WNIT’s round of 16. The Orange will travel to Michigan (20-13) to take on the Wolverines Sunday at 2 p.m. in the quarterfinals.‘I have to give my kids a lot of credit,’ SU head coach Quentin Hillsman said after the game. ‘It’s been a long week practicing and trying to keep going. I’ve been challenging them and pushing them, and they just keep responding.’AdvertisementThis is placeholder textAnd it was that six-minute stretch at the end of the second half that saw SU respond to its latest second-half deficit. After two Moss free throws — two of her 31 points on the night — VCU held a 55-51 lead with 6:47 left in the game. Everything was going according to plan for the Rams. Moss couldn’t be stopped. VCU was forcing Syracuse into turnovers. And after a tight battle to that point, the Rams held what seemed like a comfortable four-point advantage.But then came the stretch in which SU completely morphed its game. Changing its defensive gameplan, the Orange shut down Moss. Exploiting its two biggest advantages in the game, SU got to the line and sunk free throws. Or when it didn’t, someone was at least there to grab the rebound.It all started with clamping down on Moss. Scoring at will, she was unstoppable through the first 33 minutes of the game. Moving frantically from side to side in VCU’s offense, she called for the ball with every pass in the Rams’ offense. And with good reason. She tore up the Orange’s zone defense early on, scoring 18 points in the first half on 8-of-12 shooting. ‘I just thought that we just didn’t do a good job of getting to Moss,’ Hillsman said. ‘She made a lot of shots, and she really just got going on us and we couldn’t seem to get her under control.’After those two free throws at the 6:47 mark, Hillsman decided enough was enough. Shading to Moss’ side, the Orange made sure it wasn’t going to let her dominate the rest of the way. Moss only added another single point thereafter. She finished 0-of-4 from the field in the game’s final six minutes.‘I think we all just came together and said we have to pick up the intensity and play harder defense,’ said senior forward Nicole Michael, who was matched up with Moss most of the night. ‘And once we did that, we executed well and we stopped her pretty much.’With SU focusing on Moss, VCU’s offense took a hit. No one was able to step up to fill the offensive void when Moss couldn’t hit shots. And it led to an offensive turnaround for the Orange as well, as part of a 19-point swing in the game’s final six minutes. First, SU turned around its free-throw shooting. At the eight-minute mark, the Orange entered the bonus. Syracuse shot 13-for-18 (72 percent) after obtaining the bonus, sinking key shots from the charity stripe in the game’s closing minutes. The VCU bench’s chants of ‘Rebound! Box out!’ were rendered useless.‘It was a nice change,’ freshman center Kayla Alexander said. ‘Usually our free-throw percentage is not great. So I thought we did a decent job today. It helped.’On those five misses from the line, someone was usually there to grab the leftovers. The Orange used its size and strength to muscle around the Rams in the paint, finishing with a 24-12 offensive rebound advantage. Hillsman knew it was key in that deciding stretch.‘Rebounding the basketball was huge for us,’ Hillsman said. ‘For us to be plus-21 on the boards was remarkable. To double them up on offensive rebounds, I thought that was the key to the game.’With that, the Orange completed one of its most dominant runs of the season — a 23-4 run that turned a close game into a blowout win. But facing perhaps the last six minutes of her collegiate career, Michael wasn’t flustered the least bit. It was almost as if she knew the season-saving stretch was coming.‘I didn’t panic at all,’ Michael said. ‘Because I know my teammates. We kept our heads up, and we just got it done. I didn’t panic at all.’[email protected] Comments Published on March 25, 2010 at 12:00 pmcenter_img Facebook Twitter Google+last_img

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