WBB : SU reenters Big East play with chance for marquee win at No. 10 Rutgers

first_imgEntering this season, Quentin Hillsman was focused on returning to the NCAA tournament. After three straight trips to the Women’s National Invitation Tournament, SU was ready to shed its label as a bubble team come March.The strong nonconference schedule — with trips to Hawaii and Las Vegas — was in place. The Orange returned talent, with five of its top six scorers back from last season. And the SU head coach and his players were both motivated by one common goal.‘The expectation is for everyone to work hard, everyday to get better as we go on,’ SU guard La’Shay Taft said in October. ‘And the biggest expectation of them all is to make it to the NCAA tournament.’Syracuse (11-4, 0-1 Big East) begins its most crucial stretch toward fulfilling that expectation with a matchup at No. 10 Rutgers (11-2, 0-0) in Piscataway, N.J., on Tuesday at 9 p.m. The Big East matchup will be the Orange’s first of 15 straight conference games until the end of the season. SU opened conference play with a 76-72 loss to West Virginia on Dec. 7.The Orange’s performance over the next two months — beginning with a challenge against one of the conference’s elite on Tuesday — will determine SU’s postseason fate. Through the first 15 games of the season, Syracuse failed to separate itself as an NCAA tournament contender.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textOf SU’s 11 wins to this point, only one came against an opponent currently with a winning record — Boise State (8-6). The teams the Orange has beaten have a combined 59-92 record. With that resume, Hillsman and his players have their work cut out for them heading into their Big East schedule.Syracuse will need to perform against tougher competition to earn a bid to the NCAA tournament. And Hillsman will need to have his team ready to face the adversity that comes with conference play. Against West Virginia, the Orange trailed by 16 late in the second half. The comeback attempt fell short.Playing from behind was also something SU had to do in an 82-63 loss to Oklahoma.‘We don’t worry about that because we know we respond and do a good job of getting back into the game,’ Hillsman said after the game. ‘We just kept playing hard and that’s what we’re going to do.’Syracuse has recovered with three straight wins since that 19-point setback to the Sooners on Dec. 19. SU forward Iasia Hemingway has led the Orange during that winning streak, averaging 23.7 points per game.On Saturday, Hemingway scored a career-high 31 points in Syracuse’s 83-32 rout of Colgate. The mark topped her previous career-high of 30 set in a 70-47 win over Boise State in November.The senior’s offensive production will be key against Rutgers and the rest of the Big East.‘My teammates, they know how to get the ball to me,’ Hemingway said in December. ‘And I really appreciate them getting to me at the high post because I enjoy it.’As SU heads into conference play, it will depend on Hemingway and its high-low set on the offensive end, and it will employ its full-court press defense to push the tempo on opponents.The Orange didn’t register a marquee win in nonconference play, but it did gain valuable experience for its postseason push. After the humbling loss to Oklahoma — in which SU trailed from start to finish — Hillsman said his team could only continue to battle until the end.And that preparation will have Syracuse ready for the challenges ahead.‘You run your offense and keep trying to get stops on the defensive end,’ Hillsman said. ‘We learned not to get discouraged and not let that defeat our game when you fall down.’rjgery@syr.edu Facebook Twitter Google+ Published on January 2, 2012 at 12:00 pm Contact Ryne: rjgery@syr.educenter_img Commentslast_img read more