What fueled Syracuse’s historic run to the Final Four

first_imgHillsman took the blame for not getting his team ready to play after the loss to Louisville in which SU fell behind by 29 in the second quarter. But he also said he wouldn’t take on a role as a victim. Hillsman compared his team to a wounded lion, something that would be dangerous once it recovers. Even though SU was going through a bad stretch, he vowed to put a better product on the floor.When Syracuse fell behind 10-2 at N.C. State on Feb. 14, the Orange could have crumbled again. But Sykes pointed to the situation as one tangibly affected by the losses to Notre Dame and Louisville. This time, SU fought back and squeaked out a three-point win.“We got nine (regular season games) left,” Hillsman said on Jan. 25. “What if we win the rest of them? It’s a different conversation right? We got a lot of basketball left.”And the Orange finished the regular season 9-0. Then won two games in the ACC tournament before losing to Notre Dame by just 11 in the title game. Then won four straight in the NCAA tournament. Related Stories Syracuse women’s basketball opponent preview: Visual breakdown of WashingtonAlexis Peterson has been the center of it all on Syracuse’s Final Four runCornelia Fondren gives Syracuse scoring depth off the benchBrianna Butler sinks 6 3s in Elite Eight win over Tennessee Courtesy of Doug Eggen In the locker room after the loss to Louisville, everyone did a little talking, Sykes said. Senior captains Maggie Morrison and Brianna Butler spoke. So did Alexis Peterson, Briana Day and Bria Day. Nobody was afraid to say how they felt.Players knew they disappointed Hillsman and the rest of the coaching staff. They wouldn’t let it happen again.“A team could easily get divided and point fingers and say, ‘it’s your fault, it’s your fault, it’s your fault,’” Sykes said. “But we didn’t choose to do that.”After that discussion, the shooters Syracuse relies so much on got in the gym more often. When they’d go, they’d encourage teammates to come with them. One player getting extra shots up turned into two or three. Those two or three got two or three more. Sykes likened it to a pay-it-forward effect.The Orange now enters the final weekend of the women’s college basketball season as one of only four teams still playing. Two months ago, playing for a national title was a long shot.“They had soul-searching,” Reiss said. “Kind of that moment of, ‘Are we going to falter? Are we going to let this define us? Or are we going to be who we can be.’”“They chose they wanted to be champions.” Comments Watching the film made Brittney Sykes sick as she was reminded of the wakeup call the game served as. Moments when it could have turned around but never did. A season off to a solid start came to a screeching halt.A 28-point road loss to No. 3 Notre Dame was bad enough. Then an 18-point loss at home to No. 14 Louisville four days later put Syracuse’s long-term goals on hold. In the locker room, Orange head coach Quentin Hillsman told his team it needed to make a decision. Would it reach those goals or not?“It was the turning point of our program,” Sykes said.Since those two losses, Syracuse (29-7, 13-3 Atlantic Coast) has won 15 of its last 16 games. The Orange received a double-bye in the ACC tournament and then hosted the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament for the first time. And then it reached its first Sweet 16. And then its first Elite Eight. And now its first Final Four.No. 4 seed SU will take on No. 7 seed Washington (26-10, 11-7 Pacific-12) on Sunday at 8:30 p.m. in the national semifinals in Indianapolis. Syracuse’s current hot streak, the one that’s carried it far from the team that UND and UofL blew out, started after those two awful losses on Jan. 21 and 25, respectively.AdvertisementThis is placeholder text“I started to question, ‘Does this team have the character, the fight in them? … And how are they going to respond after this?’” assistant coach Tammi Reiss said. “Collectively I think they went home and said, ‘This isn’t us. This isn’t who we want to be.’”MORE COVERAGE:Visual preview: Interactive graphics breakdown Syracuse-WashingtonAlexis Peterson is at the center of Syracuse’s postseason runCornelia Fondren’s aggressiveness to the basket gives SU scoring depth Published on March 31, 2016 at 1:44 am Contact Paul: [email protected] | @pschweds Facebook Twitter Google+last_img

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