Alexander plays just 11 minutes due to foul trouble, Syracuse falls to No. 3 Connecticut
Less than four minutes into Saturday’s game, Kayla Alexander committed her first foul. Twenty-one seconds later, she was called for her second and was taken out of the game.
Alexander, Syracuse’s leading scorer and one of its core leaders, sat out the rest of the half and finished the game with only 11 minutes of action.
“It definitely made a difference,” SU head coach Quentin Hillsman said. “When your best player only plays 11 minutes and takes five shots, that’s not good.”
Against perennial powerhouse No. 3 Connecticut, the Orange needed a near-perfect game to pull off the upset, and Alexander’s inability to play for most of the game proved detrimental. Connecticut (16-1, 4-1 Big East) pulled ahead early and kept SU at a distance for most of the afternoon, rolling to an 87-62 win over Syracuse (15-2, 3-1).
In Alexander’s absence, others were charged with the task of stepping up on the road at Connecticut, particularly underclassmen. Freshman Brittney Sykes played 32 minutes and had 10 points, three rebounds and three assists, including a layup on a fast break to pull Syracuse within 15 points, 68-53, with less than seven minutes to play. The layup capped a 9-0 Syracuse run that cut the UConn lead from 22 to 15 and gave the Orange a chance for one last push in the waning minutes.
Fellow freshman Brianna Butler played her part, too, notching 11 points and three rebounds in 29 minutes of play. For Butler, the early loss of Alexander was a noticeable detriment to the Orange’s chances to pull the upset.
“Kayla’s definitely our go-to player,” Butler said. “She leads us in points and rebounds, so it put us in a bit of a hole, her being out.”
Syracuse has not beaten the Huskies in the Hillsman era, and Connecticut quickly asserted itself in opening the game on an 18-7 run over the first 7:21. From there, things stabilized and the teams played the rest of the half evenly, as the Huskies took a 41-29 lead into the break.
Well into the second half the Orange still hung around. Freshman Pachis Roberts nailed a jumper with 12:35 remaining to pull SU within 14. All five freshmen saw action on the big stage at Connecticut.
“I think they did really well,” Hillsman said. “All I wanted them to do was come out and compete, and I thought they competed every possession. That’s all you ask from them.”
After Roberts’ bucket, though, the Huskies used a three-pointer by Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis to jump-start an 8-0 UConn run that extended the lead to 22, putting the game all but out of reach for the Orange with under 10 minutes to play.
Still, the game was a good chance for the Orange to see how it stacked up against one of the nation’s best teams, and SU responded admirably, especially considering it was playing without its star. The team competed, and at 15-2 is still in good position to make a serious run at the NCAA tournament.
The Orange won’t have to wait long to make amends for Saturday’s loss. SU’s three-game conference road trip continues Wednesday, with a trip to Queens, N.Y., to face St. John’s in a rare 11:30 a.m. start.
“We have tough kids,” Hillsman said. “They are just tough. This is a tough place to play in. They (UConn) draw well, and they are a good team.”
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