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Syracuse beats Washington to play for first national championship

No. 4 Syracuse defeated No. 7 Washington in the Final Four to set up a date with No. 1 UConn in the 2016 national championship game

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Here are three thoughts on No. 4 Syracuse’s 80–59 win over No. 7 Washington in Sunday’s national semifinal.

Syracuse. Can. Shoot.

Talk about stretching the defense. The Orange don’t need much time or space to launch from long-distance, especially 5'11" guard Brianna Butler (12 points, all on threes), who’s comfortable shooting from 25 feet and in. She’s not the only one who can make them though. Syracuse was shooting 29.6% from deep coming into the national semifinal, but hit 36.4% (12 of 33) from three against Washington. That’s been the M.O. all season: Shoot, shoot and shoot some more. Alexis Peterson lead the way with 18 points and six assists, Brittney Sykes had 17 points and four rebounds, four players contributed 10 points or more and everyone who played scored.

Some people worry about living and dying by the three, but that’s not a concern for the Orange, who are alive and kicking. A hot night from outside (14 of 30) pushed Syracuse to the program’s first Final Four, and now it’ll look to continue to that streak in the title game Tuesday night against one of the best defensive teams in the country in UConn, which defeated Oregon State in the other semifinal.

Another thing about all those shots: Syracuse knows how to rebound the misses. The Orange are one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the country, averaging 18 offensive boards a game in the NCAA tourney, which leads to 16 second-chance points per game and—here’s the big one—an average of 11.4 more shots per game. Those extra possessions, especially when Syracuse is up, are huge.

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The Orange can press, too

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Syracuse forces more turnovers than any team in the country (it was 24.2 coming into the national semifinals) with a suffocating full-court press that puts teams back on their heels early. The Orange stuck with the game plan that’s worked for them all season, pressing UW and forcing the Huskies into 18 turnovers, which turned into 20 Syracuse points. It didn’t help that Washington, which lacked serious depth the last two months of the season, only had one true ballhandler (junior guard Kelsey Plum) to attack. Cuse trapped Plum all over the floor, forcing the ball out of her hands, and held the Pac-12’s fourth alltime leading scorer to 5-of-18 shooting. She had 17 points in the loss.

The only thing that kept the game from getting ugly was the hot hand of Huskies senior forward Talia Walton, who went a staggering 8 of 9 from three and finished with 29 points.

The most intriguing question, of course, is if Syracuse will try to press UConn and speedy point guard Moriah Jefferson Tuesday night in the final.

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This is probably just the beginning for Washington

It was a Cinderella run for Washington, a No. 7 seed that advanced to its first Final Four. It joined two other newcomers in Syracuse and Oregon State in a tournament celebrated for its growing parity. Obviously two blowouts is not what people were hoping for in the national semifinals, but that doesn’t mean it stops here. Last week, Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma was asked what getting to a Final Four can mean for a program, long-term. He said it depends on what happens in the five years after the first Final Four: Does the team come back? Does it fall into obscurity or mediocrity? Or does it morph into a powerhouse?

Washington is likely in too good a conference to become a powerhouse by itself, but with Plum returning and four four-star recruits coming in (including a true point guard, which means Plum can move back to shooting guard where she can focus on scoring and not distributing), the Huskies can make another deep run next season.