INDIANAPOLIS >> Syracuse reached the national championship game largely because of a strong defense.
On Tuesday night, it finally cracked under the pressure applied by UConn.
The last team with a chance to stop the Huskies’ historic run couldn’t even slow them down in the national championship game. UConn scored the first nine points, needed less than six minutes to take a double-digit lead and spent most of the rest of the game pulling away for an unprecedented fourth consecutive title with a 82-51 win.
For Syracuse, it was an unceremonious end to a remarkable season.
The Orange (30-8) set a school record for victories and reached their first Sweet 16. There, they stunned top-seeded South Carolina in the regional semifinals and blew out perennial power Tennessee to reach the Final Four. Then they routed Washington in Indianapolis to earn a trip to the title game.
On Tuesday, Syracuse finally was overmatched by the perfect team and watched dejectedly as the clock wound down.
UConn (38-0) easily negotiated Syracuse’s usually tough full-court pressure and had no trouble getting into its half-court offense. When the Huskies weren’t shooting over the top of Syracuse’s vaunted zone defense, they simply fed the ball inside for easy baskets. And on the glass, it took the Orange nearly 18 minutes to come up with their first offensive rebound.
While Cornelia Fondren scored 16 points and Brittney Sykes added 12, they needed a lot more from the 3-point shooters, who went 2 of 19 just two days after making 12.
Sykes was named to the all-tournament team after the Orange’s top scorer in the tournament, Alexis Peterson, left with a right shoulder injury with 4:54 to go. Before leaving, she let out a scream after she appeared to pop her injured shoulder back into place before the trainer arrived.
If that wasn’t painful enough to endure, there was this: Breanna Stewart, the Syracuse prep star who got away, finished with 24 points and 10 rebounds and captured the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player Award for the fourth straight year.
But the far bigger problem was that the Syracuse defense, which had been so reliable for so much of the season.
Coming into the weekend, Syracuse led the nation in turnover margin and turnovers forced — a combination that wreaked havoc on Washington. This time, it broke down.
UConn committed only 17 turnovers, many coming during a 16-0 third-quarter run that allowed Syracuse to trim its deficit from 33 points to 60-43.
UConn responded, but the late run showed how resilient the Orange were this season — a facet coach Quentin Hillsman has always liked in this team and one he believes he will help them next season when four starters return.