Women's basketball

Syracuse looking to use athleticism, get out in transition in matchup with Cornell

During nonconference play the major-conference team usually finds a way to separate itself. Whether it’s through size, athleticism or even just sheer talent, the bigger school often prevails.

For Syracuse, that key has been its athleticism. Through two games, the Orange has outscored its opponents by 24 points on fast breaks. Though it only outscored Maine 8-6 in transition, it was the open-court play that keyed SU on its 17-0 second half-run en route to its 68-44 victory last Tuesday.

The transition game will be a major part of the Orange’s (2-0) offense again when SU travels to Ithaca, N.Y., Friday to face Cornell (1-1) at 5:30 p.m.

“We can’t go down every possession and run a play and expect to win a lot of basketball games,” SU head coach Quentin Hillsman. “You’ve got to get some easy baskets, create some offense off your defense.”

But that doesn’t mean the fast break isn’t still a work in progress.

“I think we were playing too fast,” Syracuse guard Brianna Butler said, “we needed to slow it down.”

Against the Black Bears, getting out in transition was critical. Maine matched up very well with Syracuse in terms of size, so the Orange’s main advantage came through its athleticism and depth.

That will be the case again on Friday.

“Cornell’s probably about the same size (as Maine) and they’re a very solid basketball team,” Hillsman said. “They play very, very clean basketball, they execute really well.”

That means the key to the game will be the open floor. With a well-established eight-player rotation, Syracuse has the bodies to make a fast-paced system work.

What needs work now is the mental aspect. Even if the fast-paced offense isn’t perfect yet, the Orange will be persistent in improving execution throughout the season.

“We’ve got to get up and down the floor and take advantage of our athleticism,” Hillsman said. “So it’s not really about reeling it in, it’s probably more about our spacing and our decision making in transition.”

When Syracuse is successfully getting up and down the court, it opens things up inside for the Orange’s star center Kayla Alexander.

“What it’s done is allow Kayla to play one-on-one a little bit more,” Hillsman said. “And obviously — well that is a bit of a change for her I’m sure, not turning around and seeing three people in her lap.”

Another key for SU is its ability to knock down shots around the perimeter, like it did on Tuesday.

Syracuse guard Elashier Hall kicked off the Orange’s 17-0 scoring run with a pair of jumpers, including a 3-pointer. Butler also chipped in a pair of 3-pointers on 2-of-3 shooting from beyond the arc.

“Kayla’s obviously a huge threat in the inside,” Hall said, “and we just open it up for her if we knock down shots where we have to extend their zone and keep getting easier buckets.”

All of that came together for SU and helped Alexander score 19 points and grab 12 rebounds.

But that wouldn’t have been possible without Alexander’s ability to get up and down the court on the break.

Forcing turnovers and blocking shots key transition offenses. Alexander’s three blocks were a big part of that on Tuesday, and Hillsman said she got down the court with relative ease.

“Coach definitely wants us to have a high-tempo game, getting up and down the floor,” Alexander said. “And our team’s pretty good at that. We have the speed, athletic ability to do that.”

Early in the season, Syracuse can work to perfect its new system. Last season, the offense was largely run through the high post in the half-court sets. With an increased emphasis on perimeter play and running, every opportunity the Orange gets before Big East action is crucial.

SU is going to run all season, so the players might as well get used to it.

“It’s going to be important I think for the rest of our season, is get easy baskets in transition,” Hillsman said.

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