first_imgGREENSBORO, N.C. — Syracuse’s offense was so disjointed, it couldn’t even get a shot off before halftime. Despite ample time to set up a play, All-ACC first-team guard Kiara Lewis had to track into her backcourt and pick up her own deflected pass. Once she collected it, Louisville swatted her half-court heave. Minutes earlier, Lewis had banked in a deep 3-point prayer at the end of the shot clock for the Orange’s only made field goal of the second quarter. SU’s five-point quarter was part of its lowest-scoring half since 2012 — as far as the team’s website game-by-game records go — in which it mustered just 13 points. “We knew we had to play with tempo,” SU head coach Quentin Hillsman said. “Play with some pace and try to make some shots. And when you shoot 17% in the first half, it makes a difference.”Before heading to Greensboro, Hillsman said that if the No. 8-seed Orange (16-15, 9-9 Atlantic Coast) wanted an NCAA tournament bid, they’d have to make a run to the ACC tournament championship. He said nothing of a historically poor offensive showing, one that would’ve been impossible to predict after a pair of strong regular-season performances versus Louisville. But, it happened, and the 71-46 quarterfinal loss to No. 1-seed Louisville (28-3, 16-2) almost certainly guarantees that SU will miss the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2012. The Orange entered on a three-plus-minute scoreless streak, and the drought extended against the Cardinals. A low scoring output didn’t matter against Virginia, which SU held to three fourth-quarter points, but the Cardinals’ higher-octane offense made Syracuse pay. Amaya Finklea-Guity’s transition lay-in represented Syracuse’s first bucket more than four minutes into the game. By that point, Louisville already led 7-2. AdvertisementThis is placeholder textIn total, Syracuse shot 27% from the field and 22% from 3, both approaching season-lows. Louisville’s man-to-man defense consistently forced Syracuse into tough shots and turnovers. When a rare open shot presented itself, SU shooters pressed, Louisville head coach Jeff Walz said. Through the first five minutes, Finklea-Guity’s layup was Syracuse’s only clean look, and SU committed six turnovers in the first quarter alone. The Cardinals fronted the post and switched ball screens, but their bigs kept Lewis outside the paint, forcing her to settle for contested mid-range jump shots. In the first quarter, Lewis took nine of Syracuse’s 15 shots but sunk just two of them. Though Lewis committed just two turnovers, it took her 21 shots to get 18 points. The only time she beat Louisville bigs Yacine Diop, Bionca Dunham and Kylee Shook on a switch was on a hesitation and head fake move in the first quarter. “The paint was clogged up,” Lewis said. “That was part of their game plan to enclose the paint so I couldn’t attack.” Louisville’s length allows Walz to deploy aggressive schemes, he said. Beside 5-foot-6 point guard Dana Evans, each Cardinal starter stands taller than six feet. They switched almost every action, denied passes throughout the game and made it impossible for SU to find mismatches.As the Orange’s offense floundered, Louisville’s duo of Evans and Jazmine Jones (11 points, 10 rebounds) took over. At one point in the second quarter, Jones, then Evans, then Jones nailed 3-pointers on consecutive possessions. Before Friday, Syracuse had matched up with Louisville well, beating the Cardinals once and losing by four another time. SU frustrated Evans in both games, holding the ACC player of the year to a combined 22 points on 21.2% field goal shooting. Those two sub-par performances meant Evans was due, though. And in Greensboro, she exploded against Syracuse for 24 points on 6-for-10 3-point shooting. As Louisville got more stops, Evans pushed the ball in transition and found easier scoring chances than she did in the teams’ previous meetings, she said. Off a Lewis turnover in the first minute of the second quarter, Evans snagged the loose ball by the right sideline and finished for an and-1 over Gabrielle Cooper. On the ensuing possession, she bottled up Cooper’s drive and forced a wild miss. “(Evans) played fantastic today,” Hillsman said. “Gotta give her credit for being tough and playing that way.”Even Bionca Dunham, who hadn’t hit a 3-pointer all season, added to the Cardinals’ 20-point lead with a shot from behind the arc. Louisville shot a scorching 52.2% from deep in the win, and its tenacious defense persisted, too. On one play, a Cardinal defender denied Strautmane a pass on the outside, so the Latvian forward cut backdoor. But the weak side defense rotated before Lewis’s bounce pass could arrive, and it skipped out of bounds.  Louisville’s defense stifled SU so much, Hillsman resorted to a four-guard lineup in the third quarter to try to put more shooting on the floor. Taleah Washington and Elemy Colomé joined Maeva Djaldi-Tabdi, Cooper and Lewis. The small combination actually provided a spark offensively, as Washington and Lewis both converted three-point plays, but the Cardinals used their height on the other end to blunt any theoretical scoring run. Hillsman decided to go even smaller in the fourth quarter, replacing Djaldi-Tabdi with 6-foot-2 stretch forward Strautmane at center. SU added speed and caused consecutive Louisville turnovers early in the final quarter while creating open looks on offense. But the unconventional lineups came out of desperation from Hillsman, and the Orange never cut Louisville’s lead under 10. And with Syracuse left awaiting a potential WNIT decision, those lineups that had likely never played together may never get a chance again. Comments Published on March 6, 2020 at 4:10 pm Contact Danny: [email protected] | @DannyEmerman Facebook Twitter Google+last_img