The Orange will play without a key player, on the road, but have confidence they can compete with the 3rd-seeded Wildcats for a shot at the school’s first Sweet 16 appearance.
When you get your first NCAA Tournament victory, there is usually a moment where you can relish and take in what just happened.
Not for the Syracuse Orange (23-9).
They just have to turn around and get ready for one of the best teams in the nation, the 3rd-seeded Kentucky Wildcats (25-8) will be in the eye of the Orange.
“They play very fast,” Syracuse head coach Quentin Hillsman said. “I think you really have to limit the live-ball turnovers against them and you have to play your offense and be very efficient. You can’t stop doing what you do. You can try to slow the game down to where you’re not playing. Obviously, we don’t want to have an 80- possession game. We want to have an efficient offensive game on our end of the floor and not give them live-ball turnovers. We have to make sure that they get one shot and we rebound the basketball.”
They’ll be doing all of this against Kentucky without Brittney Sykes. The junior injured her knee midway through the second half in their win over UT-Chattanooga.
“Brittney is a unique player for us and has been for the last two years now,” Hillsman said Sunday. “We are not going to sit here and fool each other and be like, ‘We’ve got somebody that can step right in and do the things she can do.”
While Syracuse is making history by winning their first ever NCAA Tournament game, the Kentucky Wildcats are just trying to sustain some consistency in their program. They’ve been to the Elite 8 three times in the last four years, they’re hoping to make it four out of five attempts.
Kentucky is a big, solid team and they’ll make the teams pay inside the paint with their advantage. That’s what quality teams do. They’re really efficient on offense, shooting 43.9 percent on offense, good enough for 40th in the nation.
Led by Samarie Walker, the Wildcats are monsters on the boards, out rebounding their opponents more than five rebounds per game, good enough for 50th in the nation. Then you have Jennifer O’Neill. She’s a sharp shooter who leads the Wildcats in scoring at 13.0 points per game. DeNesha Stallworth is second on the team for Kentucky at 12.2 PPG.
Syracuse will have their handsful with the offense, but coach Hillsman is confident his defense is up to the task. The Orange run a similar 2-3 defense that you’re used to seeing with the Men’s team at Syracuse, and they do it just as well, and sometimes even better on the court.
UK is 2-0 all-time vs. Syracuse, 1-0 in Lexington. The last meeting vs. the Orange was in 1995 in a game played in Riverfront Coliseum in Cincinnati, Ohio. The Wildcats won 83-63. The first-ever meeting between the teams was in Memorial Coliseum on March 18, 1981 in the AIAW semifinals. Kentucky won 87-63.
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