Orange take down Albany in preparation for high-powered clash next week

Orange take down Albany at home

Women's hoops remains undefeated, trouncing the Great Danes 75-53.
Published: November 17, 2019
Syracuse cheers after Brooke Alexander scores a layup and draws a foul. Alexander hit her free-throw, making it a three-point play.
Teammates cheers after Brooke Alexander scores a layup and draws a foul during Saturday's win over Albany. Alexander hit her free-throw, making it a three-point play.

Quentin Hillsman was not surprised that the Orange struggled to make shots during the game, but applauded the team’s resilience as they battled sickness.

“We went through the whole flu-bug thing; we haven’t taken shots or had practices since the last game— we literally hadn’t taken a SHOT [since the last game]. Our goal was to get to this game healthy and with our full roster. It was no surprise that we had our sluggish moments because a lot of our players were under the weather, but we just wanted to get to this point, to be undefeated heading into a game against the best team in the country.”

As coach Hillsman would eventually allude to, obviously the Oregon game was “the elephant in the room,” and the team managed to remain composed en route to a commanding victory over Albany.

Digna Strautmane opened the game with a barrage of buckets, scoring 5 of her 9 points in the first period. Strautmane’s first-quarter performance wasn’t enough to give Syracuse separation, as Albany shot a blistering 50% from the field to go along with 40% shooting from three.

The second quarter was a different story for the Great Danes as they went just 3/16 from the field thanks to just one shot attempt by Khrya Frames, a 13 point-per-game scorer. Khepera Stokes added four misses of her own in what turned out to be a brutal second period for the Great Danes, finishing 3 of 9 from the field overall.

Gabrielle Cooper still didn’t seem content with her team’s excellent second-quarter defense after the game, stating that the team “hopes to just pick it up and advance that [trend] even more.” With a tough matchup against the #1 Ducks looming, the Orange will have to be on their Ps and Qs in order to limit the hot hand of Sabrina Ionescu.

“Like you said, we held them to 8 points [in the second quarter]— we want to make that 5 points, or 3 points, or maybe even a doughnut quarter, so we just want to keep getting better and better.”

Thanks to a 2-3 zone defensive scheme, the Orange, as mentioned, held Albany to just 8 points in the quarter and created much-needed separation in more or less of a tune-up game before playing Oregon.

Syracuse guard Kiara Lewis prepares to take a shot. Lewis scored 17 points in their victory 75-53 against Albany.
Syracuse guard Kiara Lewis prepares to take a shot. Lewis scored 17 points in Saturday's win.

Heading into halftime, the Orange mustered just 34 points on 43% shooting from the field. After Strautmane’s hot start, the Orange relied on their strong defense and foul-drawing to extend their lead. Despite playing great defense, the Orange were passive offensively, often foregoing wide-open looks to set up teammates.

Hillsman calmed the flustered Orange, telling them at halftime to “just move the ball.”

“We were stagnant,” Kiara Lewis reflected. “We held the ball a lot. Our offense, when we were supposed to be weaving or doing this or that, we just held the ball over our heads or just attacking randomly and moving randomly. We just had to get moving.”

Lewis came out firing in the third quarter, finishing the game with 17 points and 6 assists on 6 for 12 shooting from the field.

Lewis was not alone on offense this year like in years past. Emily Engstler added 14 points, primarily in the paint and at the line, while Gabrielle Cooper added 10 points of her own. All but one player put the ball in the basket this afternoon for the Orange.

As Syracuse continues to recover from illness, they’ll have more time to determine how and through whom they want to run the offense. There’s no doubt that the Orange have improved their depth this year, but it may take some serious star power to outduel Sabrina Ionescu and the Mighty Ducks.

The 3-0 start is significant for Syracuse, especially with the #1 Oregon Ducks coming to town a week from Sunday. “It’s big for us,” Emily Engstler exclaimed. “We want revenge [against the Ducks].” Both Oregon and Syracuse are currently undefeated and rank in the top 20 of The Associated Press’ top 25 poll.

Syracuse guard Gabrielle Cooper plays defense against Albany.
Syracuse guard Gabrielle Cooper plays defense against Albany.

Ionescu is averaging 20 points per game early on this season to go with 43% shooting from three, 44% shooting from the field, and 88% shooting from the foul line — by no means pedestrian numbers. While Ionescu will surely be a point of emphasis for a defense heavily reliant on full-court pressure and ball-denial, coach Hillsman is more worried about the strong shooting of the Ducks as a team.

Against Albany, Hillsman deployed a suffocating 2-3 zone that took away the paint almost completely. However, the Orange surrendered a large number of threes while playing zone — surely a dangerous game to play against a sharpshooting Duck team. Hillsman remains confident in his defense, explaining that, “Oregon shoots almost 50%, so we’re going to have to be able to catch up and keep them in front of us. It’s going to be something where we have to be locked in our sets and get in our gaps and make sure not to give up open looks.”

If the Orange are able to keep Ionescu in front of them and run the Ducks off the three-point line, they’ll match up well with the nation’s number-one team.