Women's Basketball

3 things Quentin Hillsman said at his pre-Connecticut press conference

Evan Jenkins | Staff Photographer

Last month, Syracuse won its 20th game of the season. Eight straight years Syracuse has done so, a testament to Hillsman’s turnaround.

Thirty hours before Syracuse faces Connecticut in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, SU head coach Quentin Hillsman addressed the media. The 11th-year head coach leads an eighth-seeded Orange team against four-time defending national champion Connecticut. The Huskies (33-0, 16-0 American Athletic), amidst a 108-game win streak, has not lost since November 2014. They host Syracuse (22-10, 11-5 Atlantic Coast) on their home floor Monday at 6:30 p.m. in a rematch of last year’s national championship game.

Here are three things Hillsman talked about ahead of SU’s biggest game of the year.

To compete with Connecticut, Alexis Peterson and Brittney Sykes need to step up

In October, Hillsman said Peterson and Sykes make up the best backcourt in the country. Throughout the season, he echoed those words after big wins and losses alike. He again stuck to his word on Sunday afternoon, citing Peterson’s 23.3 points per game average and Sykes’ 19.3. What Peterson has done this season, in becoming ACC Player of the Year, set up Syracuse for a chance to upset the sport’s top program come Monday night.

But to beat the Huskies, Syracuse will need more big-time efforts from its backcourt duo.

“Our players have to come out and perform,” Hillsman said. “We have got to put the best game plan to beat them. It’s a tall task and we know that. Are you going to come in here and be totally intimidated to where you can’t perform at all? We can’t come in here with that attitude.”

Hillsman looked back to the 2016 national championship game, an 82-51 UConn win. Sykes and Peterson combined for only three assists, three rebounds and 23 points on 11-of-30 shooting from the floor. They committed five turnovers.

“UConn’s guards, they’re amazing,” Hillsman said. “Last year they did a very good job guarding those two. Hopefully this time, we can play a little better at the guard position and make it a different game.”

The dynasty Geno Auriemma has built is good for the game

Hillsman has known UConn’s legendary head coach since Auriemma recruited one of his players. (Hillsman was a high school coach before taking over at SU.) Coaches such as Auriemma helped Hillsman start a foundation at SU, Hillsman said, because he learned how to compete and recruit at a high level.

“I’m jealous of him,” Hillsman said. “He’s won how many games? That is amazing. What an amazing life. You don’t ever lose. That’s what you want to be as a coach. I say that in a very sincere and respectful way.

“Like I said after last year’s championship game, I want to be bad for basketball like he is. I don’t want to ever lose again. I think it’s good for our game. We get a lot of publicity. I don’t think we’d have a 30-minue press conference if we weren’t playing UConn right now.”

Despite low seed, Syracuse has come a long way

Last month, Syracuse won its 20th game of the season. Eight straight years Syracuse has done so, a testament to Hillsman’s turnaround. He inherited a program that went 28-55 in the three seasons prior to his first. He’s since brought SU to nine consecutive postseason appearances, five trips to the NCAA Tournament and a national championship game. Hillsman kept all of that in mind when asked why Syracuse got seeded eighth.

“I don’t know what the reasoning was,” Hillsman. “There was a day we were sitting in that room, we were crossing our fingers hoping we got in. Now, I can’t be crying about my seed. We’ve got to go play the games.”

In Hillsman’s first season, SU finished 9-20. The Orange made the NCAA Tournament the next season and has finished above .500 every year since.

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