NCAA Women’s Tournament: Former Big East Rival Syracuse Orange Stand In UConn’s Way For Record Fourth Straight Championship

The NCAA women’s national championship game will feature familiar foes as the Syracuse Orange will take on the Connecticut Huskies at Bankers’ Life Fieldhouse on Tuesday night, with tip-off slated for 8:30 p.m. The game can be seen on ESPN and the WatchESPN app.

The match-up pits two former Big East members against each other, although the programs have not faced each other since the Orange moved to the ACC and the Huskies transferred to the American Athletic following the 2013 season. Fox Sports reports that UConn has won 23 consecutive games against Syracuse with its last loss in the series coming in 1996.

Connecticut (37-0) is making its fourth straight national title game appearance and 11th overall under head coach Geno Auriemma, who will break John Wooden’s NCAA record for most national championships with a win. The Huskies have won 74 straight overall, which is the second-longest streak in NCAA history, and are 23-0 over the last four seasons in the NCAA Tournament.

“I don’t know what I can do to help them except keep reminding them all the time `this is your spot, you’ve owned this spot for the last three years,'” Auriemma, who is 10-0 in NCAA title games, said. “Now there’s no guarantee you’re going to get it Tuesday night, but we’re not going in there Tuesday night hoping we win. Because these three (players) they’ve done more than that, it doesn’t mean we’re going to win, but I don’t have to help them with that mentality.”

UConn continued its dominating season by coasting by Oregon State 80-51 in the first national semifinal game on Sunday. The 29-point victory is the biggest margin of victory in women’s Final Four history, surpassing the 28-point win by Tennessee over Arkansas in 1998.

Morgan Tuck led the way for the Huskies with 23 points, on 8-of-13 shooting, while Breanna Stewart added 16 points and eight caroms. Moriah Jefferson added 10 points and seven dimes, surpassing Diana Taurasi for the top spot in school history for career assists.

If UConn is going to break records on Tuesday, they will need to do it without sharp-shooting freshman Katie Lou Samuelson. Samuelson broke the third metatarsal bone in her left foot in the first half. She finished with seven points and three rebounds in 17 minutes of action.

“I guess it happened on the very first basket when she drove it to the basket. She said she felt something, but didn’t really say anything and just continued to play on it,” Auriemma told the New Hampshire Register. “It wasn’t until late in the first half that we found out there was something wrong.”

Samuelson was third on the team in scoring with 13.0 points a game, although she had a squad-leading 78 three-pointers while shooting 49.3 percent from the floor and 39.4 percent from beyond the arc. Auriemma will likely insert sophomore Gabby Williams or freshman Napheesa Collier in Samuelson’s starting spot against Syracuse. Sophomore Saniya Chong is another, less likely option.

Both Williams and Collier had nice games off the bench against Oregon State, combining for 14 points, seven rebounds, four steals, and two blocked shots. Williams finished with eight points, on four-for-eight shooting, along with five caroms, while Collier had six points, on three-for-six shooting. For the season, Williams averages 8.8 points and shoots an incredible 63.4 percent from the floor, and Collier averages 6.8 points and shoots 53.1 percent from the field. However, neither one is a true threat from beyond the arc.

The Huskies, led, of course, by Stewart, has won each of their last 74 games by double-digits, and their average margin of victory this year is nearly 40 points. UConn is averaging 88.2 points a game as they shoot 53 percent from the field and 38.2 percent from beyond the arc. Along with 30.5 percent from the three-point line, they surrender just 48.3 points a game and limit opponents to 33.1 percent from the field.

Stewart, a two-time Wade Award recipient, averages 19.7 points a game and 8.7 rebounds. She shoots the lights out from anywhere on the court. Tuck and Kia Nurse also average double-figures.

Syracuse (30-7) crushed the Washington Huskies 80-59 in the second game on Sunday to reach its first national title game in school history. The Orange set an NCAA Final Four record by sinking 12-of-33 (36.4 percent) attempts from beyond the arc. Brianna Butler, who had 12 points, made four of her 13 three-point attempts to set the NCAA single-season record with 128 triples.

“They brought us out of our zone early by making [3-point] shots, ran us out of our zone, which is our bread-and-butter,” Washington coach Mike Neighbors said about Syracuse. “They were hot down the stretch. Not doing anything they haven’t been doing for the last month.”

Alexis Patterson led the way for Syracuse with 18 points, and Brittney Sykes contributed 17 points. Cornelia Fondren had 10 points, and Briana Day added seven points along with 15 boards.

Syracuse has won five in a row and 16-of-17. The Orange’s success is due to their defense and three-point shooting. They average 73.1 points and give up 59.5 points a contest. Syracuse doesn’t necessarily shoot the ball well, as they make just 37.5 percent of their shots, but they make nine three-pointers a game. The Orange have kept their opponents to less than 60 points 20 times.

Patterson leads Syracuse with 16.2 points a game along with 4.8 assists while shooting 41.5 percent from the field. Butler and Sykes also average double-figures, and Day posts 9.9 points and 8.1 rebounds.

[Photos by Andy Lyons/Getty Images]