There was, in the end, little to like about the last game of Washington’s magical march in the NCAA women’s basketball tournament. Syracuse used its frenetic pace and relentless full-court pressure to blitz the No. 7 seed Huskies en route to an 80-59 victory Sunday night.
INDIANAPOLIS — The pressure of being on this stage, in the searing intensity of the spotlight, at the Final Four for the first time — the Huskies thought they handled all that well enough.
What they so clearly struggled with Sunday night, what they knew was coming but could still do nothing about it, was the pressure Syracuse wrought on Washington in quick and devastating flashes in their national semifinal showdown.
The result was an uncharacteristically sloppy performance in the Huskies’ 80-59 defeat, and a sour ending to what was a historic NCAA tournament run for the UW women’s basketball team.
“We’ve been playing as well offensively as anybody in the country for the last month,” UW coach Mike Neighbors said. “They really put a lot of stress on us, made it really hard.”
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The Huskies (26-11) simply couldn’t keep pace with the Orange (30-7) before a crowd 15,227 fans at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Syracuse was the faster, the more aggressive and more organized team.
The Huskies also lost to Syracuse back in late November, so they knew what was coming: the blitzing full-court pressure, the barrage of three-pointers that the Orange employ.
Neighbors said the first thing the Huskies addressed in practice earlier in the week was that pressure. Even then, preparing for it, he said, “is next to impossible,” in part because the Huskies don’t have the depth to simulate it in practice.
That left the Huskies looking uncomfortable and out of sorts from the start — nothing like the loose, fun team that, as a No. 7 seed, pulled off upset after thrilling upset the past two weeks to get here.
“Their pressure is very good,” UW All-American point guard Kelsey Plum said. “They did a great job tonight, and I didn’t do a very good job of handling that pressure.”
The Orange sent two defenders at Plum nearly every time she crossed halfcourt, and sometimes even before she got to halfcourt, and midway through the second quarter she had more turnovers (four) than points (three). Too often she was trapped near a sideline, searching desperately for someone to pass to, then throwing a prayer of a pass while jumping backward.
She was held to 17 points, nine below her season average, on 5-of-18 shooting with six turnovers and three assists. The Huskies committed 18 turnovers Sunday after averaging 8.5 in their four NCAA tournament wins.
“They really, really made it hard on her for 40 minutes,” Neighbors said. “I wasn’t much help to her tonight, because we kept putting it in her hands and I knew she was tired and I knew she had been stressed like she hadn’t been stressed all year.”
Talia Walton was a bright spot for the Huskies, hitting her first eight three-point attempts — a Final Four record — and finishing with 29 points on 10-of-15 shooting in her final game for the Huskies.
Syracuse, also in the Final Four for the first time, led by as many as 19 points in the first half, and 43-31 at halftime. The Orange hit 7 of 18 three-pointers against UW’s 2-3 zone in the first half and out-rebounded UW 24-14.
The two teams combined for 23 three-pointers, a women’s Final Four record.
The Orange was particularly dangerous on the offensive glass, getting 17 of them compared to four for UW. That led to 37 “hustle” points for the Orange, as Neighbors calls them: points combined off UW turnovers and opponents’ offensive rebounds.
“The most frustrating part was not being able to get in our flow, what we wanted to do — what makes us us,” UW junior forward Katie Collier said. “We like to get a (defensive) stop and then run on people, but we weren’t able to get stops. That’s the first part of it. If we don’t get stops, we can’t run.”
Tears flowed in UW’s locker room afterward, as one would expect. But the Huskies also knew they had much to be proud of.
“This is kind of a fairy tale, you know,” Walton said. “You see those movies where the underdog wins and all that, and that’s basically what this has been. … This is definitely something that I will remember for the rest of my life.”
|One hot shooter isn’t enough|
|Other than Talia Walton, the Huskies struggled to consistently score on Sunday against Syracuse’s relentless defense. How UW’s scorers fared:|
|Player||FG shooting||3-point shooting||Points|
|Talia Walton||10 of 15||8 of 9||29|
|Kelsey Plum||5 of 18||1 of 6||17|
|Katie Collier||3 of 5||0 of 0||7|
|Chantel Osahor||1 of 6||1 of 6||3|
|Kelli Kingma||1 of 3||1 of 2||3|