ND Women's Basketball: Syracuse stuns Irish
By: KATIE McVOY
Associate Sports Editor
Before her team entered Louis Brown Athletic Center on Sunday, Syracuse head coach Marianna Freeman had three words for the Orangewomen: Refuse to lose.
And that's just what they did.
In 40 minutes of play, the Orangewomen did everything they could to win the game and when it looked like they might be playing not to lose instead of playing to win, Freeman called a time out and reminded her team what they were there for: to win.
When that 40 minutes was over, it was clear that Syracuse had come to bring home the victory and kill any hopes the Irish had of making it past their first game in the Big East tournament.
"I told them that you're guaranteed when you arrive the first 40 minutes, but you have to play for the other 40," Freeman said.
During the 84-79 Syracuse victory, the Orangewomen shut down Notre Dame's offense, took the ball out of the team's hands and put the ball in the basket from every place on the floor. Led by the efforts of guards Julie McBride and Jaime James, Syracuse proved that, despite a mid-season loss to Notre Dame, whatever team wants to can win.
"It was a long 20 minutes in the second half, but I think we wanted it more," Tara Trammell, senior Orangewomen center, said. "Coach Freeman said `refuse to lose' and I just think we lived by that."
While Syracuse allowed the Irish to get close, allowing a run that brought the Irish from 18 points down to within seven in the second half, the Orangewomen refused to lose. Freeman called a time-out with 1:18 left in the game and the Irish down by only six and told her team something.
"I brought them back — as you can see I was pretty upset with them," Freeman said. "And I told them I didn't like their body language. I felt that they were beginning to play not to lose. And I said don't play [not] to lose, play to win."
After that, Syracuse did everything they could to win. When Irish guard junior Alicia Ratay hit a 3-point shot to bring the game within two with 18 seconds left, James hit two free throws to put it out of reach. On the previous three Syracuse possessions, McBride hit five charity shots and missed none.
"I thought McBride was a tremendous leader for them," Muffet McGraw, Irish head coach, said. "She really did everything she needed to do to win the game for them. At the end she made the free throws. She really made some big plays — we couldn't guard McBride. She killed us down the stretch with her free throws. James hit her free throws as well."
It was a strong Syracuse first half that allowed them to win, after the Irish stepped up play in the second half. After taking an early five-point lead, the Orangewomen made sure they never trailed the Irish by more than four. When halftime rolled around, they had a seven-point lead.
"It was very important that we started off well in the first half and at least had ourselves in a position to be in the ball game," Freeman said. "And I think that was the key to the ball game: to get off to a good start and come off the floor at halftime with a lead."
The Irish took a four-point lead four minutes into the game, their largest of the game, before Syracuse began stealing. The Orangewomen had four steals in a little less than five minutes and forced enough Irish turnovers to take a five-point lead.
In the course of the game, Syracuse forced 19 turnovers, had 11 steals and scored 29 points on turnovers.
"I think that we've struggled with the turnovers all year long," McGraw said. "When you have kind of a rookie point guard it really makes it a little more difficult. I really don't think we had that intensity and focus early in the game."
The Syracuse offense seemed to have Notre Dame pegged as well. While the Orangewomen were boggled by several Irish defensive schemes when they played at the Joyce Center earlier this season, they had no problem scoring against zone and man-to-man defenses.
"They just played hard," McGraw said. "They just came at us. They shot the ball better than they did last time. No matter what we played, zone or man, it didn't matter. They were shooting well. They just kept attacking us."
The Irish played a more solid game in the second half. They upped their shooting percentage from 32.4 percent to 51.5 percent and took more three-point shots; even after Syracuse took a 19-point lead, it looked as if the Irish would have a shot at the ball game.
"I think we felt we could win. The problem was we had to foul somebody else," McGraw said. "And as we kept fouling McBride [I became worried] that she was going to make the free throws. I thought if we had fouled somebody else we could have won."
Ratay, who totaled a game-high 29 points, led the charge in the last 20 minutes of the game. Guarded early by the strong Syracuse defense, she had trouble getting open looks. But as the seconds ticked down and she found her team down by as much as 19, she made sure she took whatever shots she could get.
"In the second half, when you have to score, you find a way to score," Ratay said. "You do whatever you can to get an open shot."
Freshman Katy Flecky added 12 points to the final Irish score, the only other player to hit double digits.
Syracuse was unstoppable in the long run. McBride, who scored 18 points and James, who scored 23, proved to be unbeatable foes. Syracuse refused to lose.
"There was no way they were going to take the game away from us," Trammell said.
"It's not always the best team that wins, it's the team that plays the best," Freeman said. "And on this night, we played the best."
- The Syracuse win marks the farthest this team has come in the Big East tournament since 1988 when they made it to the semifinals before losing that game.
- Freshman forward Jackie Batteast played for the first time following a four-game absence due to a knee injury. Batteast, who was the Irish leading scorer prior to her injury, played 13 minutes, scored no points and grabbed two rebounds.
- In its previous six appearances in the Big East tournament, the Irish have at least made it to the semifinals. Sunday's game marked the lowest tournament finish in Irish history.
All Sports Stories for Monday, March 4, 2002