Sam Maller | Asst. Photo EditorWomen's Basketball
Syracuse’s depth put on display as talented freshmen all see playing time in win over Fairleigh Dickinson
When Quentin Hillsman released his starting lineup for Syracuse’s season opener, it looked a lot different than last season’s.
Freshmen Brianna Butler, Cornelia Fondren and Brittney Sykes all got the starting nod, while veterans Rachel Coffey and Carmen Tyson-Thomas began the game on the bench.
“They were playing well all preseason and coming into this first game,” Hillsman said. “Rachel Coffey and Carmen Tyson-Thomas had to really be team players, and they are, and they were when we announced who was starting.”
Fourteen Orange players saw action on in SU’s season-opening 94-47 win over Fairleigh Dickinson on Sunday in the Carrier Dome, a statement of the team’s abundant depth in 2012-13. Hillsman said before the season that he expected nine to 11 players to see significant time — which he defined postgame as double-digit minutes — this season. With five game-ready freshmen poised to join the veteran cast, SU’s depth had the potential on paper to serve as one of the team’s biggest assets.
Hillsman strives to foster a fast-paced, up-tempo style of play, which is best executed when players rotate in and out of play frequently, he said.
“Our goal is to play 10 or 11 players double-figure minutes every night,” Hillsman said. “If we’re going to play this fast and really play this way, we have to get bodies in the game. It’s just a must.”
The depth was on full display on Sunday.
Ten Orange players saw double-digit minutes. The scoring was spread across the board as well, with five players in double figures.
The freshmen showed from the start that they were ready to complement their incumbent teammates and contribute. With SU up 3-0 in the opening minutes, Sykes drove into the lane and drew contact, leading to a free throw for her first collegiate point. Shortly after, Sykes made her defensive presence felt with a block.
The highly touted Sykes finished with 11 points on Sunday, and she was joined in double figures by fellow freshman Butler. With Syracuse leading 7-3, a block by SU center Kayla Alexander led to a fast break that ended with a 3-pointer by Butler from the left corner. Butler saw 21 minutes of action against FDU, making her first four shots and finishing 4-of-6 from the field.
“Obviously, starting as a freshman, it’s nerve-wracking and plenty nervous,” Butler said. “But Coach told us to just go out there and play our game, slow it down and that’s what we did.”
With the freshmen proving their coach’s optimistic preseason words true, the upperclassmen had a chance to get more rest during the game than they may have had in prior years. Among those taking advantage was Alexander, who made a push for a rare triple-double with 20 points, 10 rebounds and 8 blocks in a team-high 29 minutes.
For Alexander, the chance to get rest is an important asset that the newcomers can help provide.
“They can shoot; they’re all scoring threats,” Alexander said. “Everybody’s going to have to play them from day one. That helps a lot; it will allow a lot of seniors and upperclassmen to get some rest time.”
The Orange opened up a long season that has the potential to extend for five months. The ability to go 14 deep is an indication of the team’s health right now, the value of which cannot be understated, Hillsman said.
With the freshmen contributing immediately, the class showed the potential to make its presence felt throughout the season.
“Our freshmen were amazing today,” Hillsman said. “I’m very, very happy for them. (They did) just what I thought they would do, come in and be immediate impact players.”
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