Women's Basketball

Focus and rebounding to lead SU into Big East play against Marquette

Ever since Syracuse ended last season 6-10 in Big East play, Carmen Tyson-Thomas has yearned for a chance at redemption.

This year, in her senior season, the forward wants to go out with a bang.

After helping to ignite the Orange to a strong start during nonconference play, Tyson-Thomas will get that chance. Syracuse (12-1) looks to open Big East play with a win against Marquette (8-5) at the Al McGuire Center in Milwaukee at 8 p.m. Saturday. Tyson-Thomas and Kayla Alexander have thrived in Big East play in past years, and this year they’re looking to lead SU to the NCAA tournament by staying focused and continuing to dominate the boards.

“Since this is my last season, I’m just ready for that stiffer competition,” Tyson-Thomas said, “Getting to play the people I’ve been playing these last few years. All of us are on our toes.”

The elusive NCAA tournament birth that Tyson-Thomas has coveted since joining the Orange is in reach. But in order to earn it, she said SU has to avoid getting caught up in the big picture; instead, it has to focus on nuances that separate great teams from good teams.

“Our focus is always taking one step at a time and getting one ‘W’ at a time,” Tyson-Thomas said. “We’re ready to play.”

The Golden Eagles are Syracuse’s first conference test, an up and down team this season.

Marquette lost to Georgia Tech on Nov. 18, a team Syracuse beat in overtime five days later. In early December, the Eagles lost three in a row to Wisconsin, Green Bay and Toledo. They needed overtime to thwart South Dakota St. and barely held on against Fordham.

Since the three-game losing streak, though, Marquette has whipped off four in a row in better form.

Syracuse guard Elashier Hall knows teams like Marquette are tougher to play against because of their strength and endurance. She said the coaching staff has prepped Syracuse on how to not only keep up with, but also beat these trickier teams consistently.

“Running the floor, pressing,” Hall said. “We’ve done stuff like that before, but just to get our endurance up, because the Big East is bigger and faster and they run harder. We have to do more of that.”

Syracuse hasn’t faced any dominant centers up to this point, and Alexander and Tyson-Thomas have dominated the glass with authority. SU is currently second in the Big East in rebounding at 45.7 boards per game.

Marquette has four players 6-foot-3 or taller, including leading scorer and rebounder Katherine Plouffe. Head coach Terri Mitchell will likely utilize sporadic double teams on Alexander and mix and match various lineups to keep her off the glass.

Despite the Golden Eagles’ size, though, Hall said she, Alexander and the rest of the Orange will be up for the task, citing rebounding as a staple of the program.

“No. 1, boxing out,” Hall said. “In previous years we’ve been No. 1 in rebounding, so we have to get back to that. Definitely box out. We definitely are the biggest and strongest.”

Syracuse has used that clear advantage on the glass to put together a consistent performance to start the season, with the team’s lone loss coming against Temple.

Since that loss, SU has won its last five games by an average of 29.6 points. The Orange most recently thumped Boise State on Sunday by a score of 87-48, outrebounding the Broncos 47-30.

Alexander has been virtually unstoppable for SU thus far, averaging 19.5 points, 8.4 rebounds and 3.6 blocks per game. Smaller defenders have looked helpless in the paint while Alexander muscles her way for ceaseless easy buckets.

“She’s been excellent so far,” head coach Quentin Hillsman said. “I think she can get deeper post position, but she’s been great.”

Like fellow seniors Tyson-Thomas and Hall, Alexander is psyched to be immersed in conference play for the final time. The two-time all-Big East selection aims to help the Orange leave the Big East with some pizzazz and earn a spot in the NCAA tournament.

“I’m looking forward to it,” Alexander said. “I want this to be a big year for us. Seeing that it’s my last year here, I want to go out with a bang. Hopefully we can keep it going.”

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