Washington women crack under Syracuse pressure, 80-59
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Washington coach Mike Neighbors learned a hard lesson Sunday night. The Huskies must find a way better way to handle the pressure next season.
Syracuse converted 18 Washington turnovers into 20 points and used its strong 3-point shooting barrage to dismantle the Huskies' defense in an 80-59 blowout in the national semifinals, leaving them one win short of playing for a national title.
''This is obviously going to be the book on us, and people will watch this film and try to maybe emulate this to beat us. So we'll use that to improve in the offseason when we get back to work,'' Neighbors said. ''We won't be unprepared again.''
The problem against the Orange (30-7) was more about numbers than preparation.
Third-team All-American Kelsey Plum was forced to play 40 minutes against Syracuse's vaunted full-court press, and it took a big toll on the nation's No. 3 scorer. She finished with 17 points, but was only 5 of 18 from the field and had six turnovers with three assists.
Neighbors said if next year's recruiting class had already arrived, he could have given Plum a break from her ball-handling duties. But on Sunday, he didn't have a chance.
With Plum struggling, Talia Walton delivered by scoring 29 points and making her first eight 3-pointers to set a Final Four single-game record. The previous mark of six was set by Katie Steding in the 1990 title game and matched in 2013 by Antonita Slaughter.
And for the second time this season, the outmanned Huskies (26-11) couldn't keep up with Syracuse.
''They do a very good job of trapping ball screens and rotating on the pass and they're very athletic, so they touch a lot of passes,'' Plum said. ''They did a great job tonight, and I didn't do a very good job of handling that pressure.''
For Syracuse, it was just part of the normal plan.
Alexis Patterson scored 18 points, and Brittney Sykes added 17 to lead the surprising Orange into their first national championship game.
The next goal is to end UConn's historic run on Tuesday night. The three-time defending champs rolled to their 74th consecutive win with a 29-point blowout over Pac-12 champion Oregon State, the largest margin ever in the national semifinals. One more would give UConn a record fourth straight title and another perfect season.
With Syracuse's blowout, it marked the first time since 1995 - and only the third time in Final Four history - that the two games were each decided by 20 or more points.
This game looked awfully familiar to the November game when Syracuse jumped to a 21-point lead, Washington rallied to within one and the Orange held on for a 66-62 victory. This time, Syracuse never let it get close.
When Washington cut the halftime deficit to 43-31, Peterson hit a 3 to start a 9-4 spurt that made it 52-35. When the Huskies got within 11, Syracuse used a 15-2 run to make it 67-43. And when Washington closed to 72-59 midway through the fourth quarter, Sykes and Brianna Butler made back-to-back 3s to seal it.
''Our players did what we asked them to do,'' Syracuse coach Quentin Hillsman said. ''They competed at a high level. They pushed the pace, pushed the tempo. And that's the difference in the game. We just wanted to get up and down and play fast.''
The two teams came into the night averaging 16.2 3-pointers. They nearly matched that total in the first half and wound up combining for 23. Syracuse made 12 and broke UConn's 15-year-old record most 3-point attempts in a Final Four game. The Orange had 33 attempts, three more than UConn had in a semifinal game against Notre Dame. Washington finished 11 of 25. Until Sunday, only two teams had ever made 11 in a Final Four game.
Syracuse: Butler scored 12 points and made four 3s to set the NCAA's single-season record with 128. Ohio State's Kelsey Mitchell made 127 last season. ... The Orange outrebounded Washington 46-28 including 17-7 on the offensive glass. Syracuse also had scoring advantages of 20-9 in points off turnovers and 17-7 on second-chance points. ... Former football star Floyd Little attended the game.
Washington: Plum fell eight points short of breaking Chiney Ogwumike's Pac-12 single-season record (967). ... Chantel Osahor scored only 3 points on 1-of-6 shooting but grabbed 14 rebounds. ... The Huskies had 18 turnovers after being forced into 19 in the first meeting. ... Neighbors and Hillsman, who are friends, spent about the final 15 seconds of the game shaking hands near midcourt.