Vaida Sipaviciute was a force inside.
Sipaviciute accounted for nearly half of Syracuse’s offense, netting a career-high 21 points including the go-ahead basket with 1:13 left as Syracuse edged Villanova, 45-42, Saturday afternoon at Manley Field House.
Sipaviciute, who made just her sixth career start, used a variety of low-post moves to baffle and frustrate Villanova.
“There’s nobody that works harder than (Sipaviciute) on this team in terms of time that she’s putting in,” head coach Keith Cieplicki said. “I give a lot of credit to her teammates, too. They’re believing in her.”
With Syracuse (11-8, 3-5 Big East) trailing 43-42 with 1:13 left, Coleman lobbed the ball to Sipaviciute. The center – who had missed six-straight shots at that point – calmly turned around and banked in the shot, giving Syracuse its first lead in more than eight minutes.
Villanova’s Liad Suez missed a jumper with 38 seconds left and Syracuse rebounded, seemingly ending the game. But the Wildcats (11-7, 4-3) were able to force a five-second violation with 18.2 second left after Coleman couldn’t find anyone open.
Syracuse recovered when Kate Dessart Mager missed a runner and Jessica Richter recovered the loose ball. Richter hit two free throws to seal the win, snapping the Orange’s three-game losing streak.
“In my head, my clock must’ve been slow because I thought I had time,” Coleman said. “My bad to the team, but we pulled it out and we got a stop when we needed it.”
Chineze Nwagbo added 11 for the Orange and Rochelle Coleman chipped in nine assists. Jackie Adamshick had 12 for the Wildcats. With the loss, Villanova head coach Harry Perretta was denied his 500th win.
He may have reached the milestone had it not been for Syracuse’s outstanding team defense and Sipaviciute’s dominance in the paint.
The freshman made her first start against Providence on Jan. 21 and had averaged 10.6 points and 5.8 rebounds in the previous five games. It was more of the same Saturday afternoon as the Orange went to Sipaviciute early on.
She scored eight of Syracuse’s first 10 points and her layup with 6:14 left in the opening half sparked an 8-0 Orange run as Syracuse went into halftime with a 26-20 lead.
“At practice yesterday, all the guards passed the ball to me a lot,” Sipaviciute said. “If I get the ball, I need to shoot it.”
Syracuse kept with that philosophy in the second half.
Sipaviciute was again the featured player, hitting four shots in the first six minutes as Syracuse took its biggest lead, a 36-28 lead with 14 minutes left.
Villanova refused to fade.
The Wildcats adjusted their defense to force Sipaviciute farther away from the basket and also sent two and three defenders at her every time she touched the ball. The strategy worked as Sipaviciute missed six straight shots while Villanova went on a 12-0 run capped by a layup from Betsy McManus.
The Orange looked flustered until Richter hit a 3-pointer breaking the run with less than eight minutes.
“It just seemed like we all relaxed again,” Cieplicki said. “It seemed like for a while, it was in, in, and then it was nothing, nothing. And then she hit that, and everyone loosened up again.”
The difference was most notable on defense. After McManus’ layup, Villanova would score only two more points coming on a Suez jumper with 5:17 left.
Suez came in leading Villanova in scoring, averaging 13.5 per game. But she finished with just four points, missing 9-of-11 shots.
“I thought we did a good job of challenging everything,” Cieplicki said. “I thought our defense as a team was pretty good today.”
This and That
The win was Syracuse’s third Big East win, matching the total from all of last year (3-13)… The last time Syracuse scored 45 points and still won was Feb. 12, 1975 when Syracuse topped Keuka College, 45-41. … Coleman played 40 minutes without committing a turnover.