Orange women hold off Louisville for 53-45 home win

Behind the play of Iasia Hemingway and Kayla Alexander, Syracuse shook off a poor shooting night and made just enough plays to beat Louisville Wednesday with a score of 54-45.

When watching the Syracuse women’s basketball’s game Wednesday night, it was impossible not to notice an Orange guard zipping around the court. She was seemingly everywhere at once, driving through players on her way to the net, throwing her body across the court to guard an open opponent. 

Photo: Timothy R. Olsen
Forward Shakeya Leary, 34, turns an offensive rebound into points for the Orange against Louisville. SU hauled in 19 offensive boards en route to victory.

In a game of poor shooting percentage and low scoring, Iasia Hemingway’s grit was needed on both sides of the court. An exciting, back-and-forth game against Louisville, that Syracuse held on to win, 53-45.

There were five ties in the game but only one lead change. Syracuse never relinquished the lead after going ahead midway through the first half.  

Hemingway’s pure determination to win would have captured attention on its own. But just as dynamic and lively as her play was the guard’s hair. Half braided, the other half was a bushel of springing curls, and streaks of light brown appeared throughout.    

It wasn’t her new hairdo that brought the Newark, N.J. native her team-leading nine rebounds. In fact, she wasn’t even 100 percent in the days leading up to the game.  

“I’ve been sick a lot, so I’ve been resting a lot,” Hemingway said. “I just came out here and gave my team my all, like I do every night.”

Both Louisville and Syracuse shot poorly, converting on just 28 and 33 percent of field goals, respectively.

Syracuse held the Cardinals, usually a 37 percent shooting team from beyond the arc, to just 3-of-15 from long range. Louisville’s leading scorers Shoni Schimmel and Monique Reid – who usually average more than 15 points a game each – were held to a combined 10 points for the game.

“We got some good shots,” Louisville head coach Jeff Walz said. “When my two leading scorers go 4-for-29 from the field, we’re going to have a hard time winning.”

The Orange made up for their own lack of offense with strong defensive play on both ends of the court. Syracuse had 51 rebounds, including 19 on the offensive end. Each team was off its game, but the Orange’s handling of the ball ensured that their own offensive troubles didn’t turn into Louisville baskets.

“I was happy with the looks (we were getting on offense),” SU head coach Quentin Hillsman said. “I was more happy that on the other end we didn’t let them score. That’s the key when you don’t score and they don’t score, you are going to be in pretty good shape.”

Kayla Alexander led Syracuse with 17 points, and 15 of those points came in the second half. Alexander made herself more open under the basket, and her teammates made the move to play the ball to the low post. Although she was guarded by as many as three red jerseys, Alexander used her height advantage to either score or draw a foul.

“The game was getting pretty close, and I thought, ‘I need to score some more or be more of a threat offensively at least,’” she said. “They put some good pressure on me. It wasn’t easy getting those points today. I think I got half of those points on accident.

Runs dictated much of the first half. Syracuse first went on a 12-2 run that extended for six and a half minutes. Up 23-11 with four minutes, Louisville began to chip away at the lead, as they finished the half with eight straight points.

Momentum changed for the Orange in the second with Alexander’s upswing in play. Hemmingway and Alexander’s play penetrating the paint caused Louisville to increase their fouling. Syracuse had 22 free throw attempts in the second half after just two in the first.

Riding its lead, Syracuse controlled the tempo for much of the latter part of the game, using the same tactic that helped it beat Villanova Saturday.

Though the second half was excrutiatingly slow, especially when Syracuse led by two points, Hillsman said that was his plan all along.

“It was moving slow because I slowed it down,” Hillsman said. “We controlled tempo and got the shots that we wanted.”

The win brings the Orange’s Big East record back to an even 6-6 entering the final stretch of the season. Syracuse now takes to the road to play two difficult opponents in St. John’s and Cincinnati. Their placement in the Big East tournament and, more importantly, the NCAA Tournament, will be determined by the Orange’s play down the stretch.

“It’s getting to be clutch time. It’s getting to be close to March,” Hemingway said. “We want to get to the tournament, so I know that I have to put it all out there because we don’t have anything to lose.”

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