UConn challenged by Syracuse, but only for a moment

Quentin Hillsman

Syracuse’s dream season came to an end on Tuesday

From the opening moments, Connecticut showed why they are a cut above every other women’s basketball program in the NCAA. The Huskies (38-0) came out firing, posting the first nine points of the night on the way to an 82-51 victory over Syracuse in the NCAA Championship game. The victory extended UConn’s win streak to 75 games and gave them their fourth consecutive national title and 11th overall.

The Orange (30-8) were overmatched from the beginning, connecting on only 4-of-16 shots from the floor in the first quarter and also getting outrebounded by a 19-5 margin in that time. That failure to make shots kept SU from setting up their press, one of the primary factors behind their success on the season.

With shooting three-pointers and creating turnovers as their calling cards on the year, the Orange only made a season-low 2-of-19 shots from deep and caused just a dozen miscues, tying the mark for the fewest they forced all season.

The loss put a damper on the finest season in Syracuse women’s basketball history. The team set a program record for wins and also pushed the school’s total of NCAA Tournament wins from two to seven with their trip to the finals.

After the Huskies leapt out to a 9-0 lead, Brittany Sykes finally got the Orange on the board with almost four minutes elapsed. The two squads traded a handful of scores, but after the midpoint of the opening quarter, UConn blew the game open with ten straight points for a 23-6 lead with 2:20 showing on the clock.

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Taylor Ford ended that burst with a triple, triggering a quick 7-3 SU run capped with a stepback bomb from Brianna Butler with 15 seconds left in the period that gave the Orange some momentum and cut the margin to 12. The Huskies, however, stuck a buzzer-beating three for a 28-13 lead after one.

Just over three minutes into the second quarter, Connecticut made it a 9-0 run overall to surpass the 20-point gap at 34-13. Syracuse hung tough for most of the rest of the quarter, but the Huskies closed the half by converting on three straight trips to take a 50-23 lead at the break.

Connecticut would push their lead beyond 30 points early in the third quarter. SU, however, posted a 16-0 run in the middle of the period. Pressure defense by the Orange started to pay off with a couple turnovers and Cornelia Fondren poured in eight points during the streak. The run, however, only drew them within 17 points and the Huskies scored twice before the horn to close the third with a 64-43 lead.

Those closing scores helped UConn regain their composure for the final quarter and they pushed their lead out to 24 points with less than four minutes elapsed. Syracuse, however, continued to scrap, employing their press through the end of the game. The Huskies simply proved to be too much, though, stretching their lead to 31 points in the final minute.

Cornelia Fondren came off the bench to top SU with 16 points. Brittany Sykes had a dozen points and was named to the All-Tournament Team. Alexis Peterson chipped in with 11 points before leaving midway through the fourth with an injury.

North Syracuse native Breanna Stewart paced Connecticut with 24 points to go with ten rebounds and a half dozen assists. Stewart was honored with her fourth Most Outstanding Player Award of the Final Four for her efforts.

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Jim Stechschulte

About Jim Stechschulte

A 1996 graduate of Syracuse University, Jim has reported on Syracuse sports for the Syracuse University Alumni Club of Southern California on nearly a decade, where he currently resides. He has also written a fantasy basketball column published by NBA.com. Follow him on Twitter @DSafetyGuy.
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