One Husky at a Time

The Syracuse Orange women are in the Final Four. While Connecticut potentially looms, it is important to stay focused on the game in front of them.

The Syracuse Orange women's basketball program continues to make history. From the first Sweet-16 in program history to the first Regional Final, and now the first Final Four. Syracuse faces seventh seeded Washington, a team they beat 66-62 early in the season. 

Given how much better Syracuse is playing now compared to them, it is easy to look past Washington and focus on the goliath in women's college basketball. Connecticut. 

It's easy to look ahead to facing them, given what they are within the sport. It's easy to think about playing the best of the best and whether or not you can knock them off.

But if the Orange are to reach that game and play for a National Championship, they must first tame the Washington Huskies without thinking about the UConn Huskies. One game at a time. One opponent at a time. One Husky at a time. 

Washington has quality players. They are in the Final Four for a reason. Kelsey Plum is an elite point guard who can shoot, drive, score and pass. She can do it all offensively.

Talia Walton is a long, athletic forward with a versatile offensive game who can be disruptive defensively and on the glass. 

Chantel Osahor is a presence inside who plays an unorthodox style of basketball. She will test the front line of the Orange. 

If Syracuse is caught looking ahead to UConn and Breanna Stewart, Washington will beat them. That does not mean Syracuse will. This group has done a tremendous job of focusing on the team immediately in front of them. Playing the next game like their lives depended on it. 

"I remember they're a good team," junior point guard Alexis Peterson said. "Obviously they have great players, Kelsey Plum, Talia Walton, Osahor. They have a lot of size. They can really shoot the ball. They're a great team. We have to be ready to come out and compete again for 40 minutes."

That focus, determination and grit allowed them to come back against South Carolina. It allowed them to dominate Tennessee by 22 to advance to their first ever Final Four. That is what will help them on Sunday when they play on the big stage. 

It will be the first Final Four for both Syracuse and Washington. Who settles down and realizes it is just a basketball game rather than falling victim to the stage, the bright lights and the moment will have a huge advantage. 

Given the way Syracuse has played down the stretch of the season, there is little doubt that they will be able to handle all that comes with playing in the Final Four. The leadership of Alexis Peterson, Brittney Sykes, Brianna Butler and others will not allow them to take anything for granted. 

The pressure defense allows them to get into a rhythm and a flow early. It allows Syracuse to dictate tempo and force teams to play the Orange's game. That is why this team has been so successful. Why they are where they are. 

And that is why, despite being a program first, Sunday will not be too big for Quentin Hillsman's group. That is why the only Huskies they will be concerned about are the ones from Washington. 

"We were up by like 20, then they came back and cut it to two," Hillsman said. "I remember that. They're a very tough team, very explosive. They score the basketball from all five spots on the floor. They are very much a contrasting style from the way we play. They get up and down and play fast. They really want to run on offense. We've got to find a way to combat that."

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