Women's Basketball

Syracuse prepares to face No. 7 Notre Dame, its toughest opponent yet

Evan Jenkins | Staff Photographer

Syracuse will have to defy history if it's to beat Notre Dame this weekend.

Syracuse’s last victory over Notre Dame came in the 2002 Big East Tournament, a year after UND won its only national title. SU has lost every time the two squads have met since.

One of the nation’s best teams takes the Carrier Dome floor Sunday evening, when the No. 7 Fighting Irish (23-3, 11-1 Atlantic Coast) pose as the Orange’s toughest test this season. UND entered the year atop the Associated Press Top 25 poll and spent the first six weeks there. Notre Dame, which has reached the national championship game in four of the last six seasons, visits No. 21 Syracuse (18-8, 9-4) on Sunday night.

“It’s a big game,” Syracuse head coach Quentin Hillsman said. “We can’t deflect that. Notre Dame, they are a very good program. We understand we need to play a very good game to beat them. We got to try to affect them with our pressure, speed the game up and get a ton of possessions so we can score the ball.”

During last year’s SU-UND regular-season bout, the latter dominated inside with 38 paint points in a 28-point rout. Alexis Peterson and Brittney Sykes, who rank 1-2 on the ACC scoring list this year, combined with Briana Day for only 27 points on 11-of-45 shooting. When the teams met six weeks later, SU fared much better. Notre Dame still won by 11, capturing the ACC Tournament title, but Peterson, Sykes and Day combined for 41 points.

In the team’s last seven meetings, UND has won by an average of 20 points per game. The former Big East foes met twice last year, when UND finished 33-2 and 16-0 in ACC games. Notre Dame leads the all-time series against Syracuse, 30-2. All of that indicates another Notre Dame win come Sunday evening.

This season, SU wants to flip the script. Syracuse is coming off its best season in program history and has over the last month played its best basketball of the season. But the Orange, winners of five of its last six, is 0-3 against Top 10 teams and 3-5 against ranked opponents this season.

“Notre Dame is next on our list,” said Sykes, who scored a career-high 34 points on Sunday. “We just have to know it’s going to be a hard-fought game. They’re not going to give up.”

Notre Dame has been one of the only teams in the country to put up a fight against four-time defending national champion and top-ranked Connecticut, which has won its last 100 games. The Fighting Irish lost to UConn, 72-61, in December. UND’s only ACC loss came at North Carolina State, a team SU beat by 10. Six-foot-3 All-American junior forward Brianna Turner was held to only seven points and the Wolfpack shot 42 percent from 3-point range.

SU will likely have to replicate that formula to pull off the upset against a Notre Dame team that is 10-2 on the road, backed by All-ACC senior point guard Lindsay Allen. Arike Ogunbowale’s 15.1 points per game leads the Fighting Irish, and each of the other four starters averages at least 8.7 points per contest.

“Notre Dame’s tough,” North Carolina head coach Sylvia Hatchell said. “They can score. Shots that we missed tonight, they make. And the rebounding. They’re a big team with Turner in the middle.

“It will come down to guard play, Turner inside and how she plays against the Day (sisters).”

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