For its season-opening game, the Siena College women’s basketball team travels tonight to play Syracuse.
You know, last year’s national runner-up — something Siena head coach Ali Jaques didn’t know Syracuse would be when she had opted to play the game.
“When I scheduled the game, I wasn’t anticipating they’d be in a national champ-ionship game,” Jaques said last week. “But who cares?”
Siena, coming off a 14-18 season, will bring that fearless attitude into its matchup tonight with Syracuse, which lost in last year’s national final to UConn. Picked to finish third in the MAAC preseason poll, the Saints’ desire to play faster this season will get a serious opening challenge from a Syracuse team built around trying to force turnovers.
“They’re known for their pressure. They’re known for their attack mentality, defensively,” Jaques said. “They’re relentless when it comes to ball pressure and pressing. There isn’t a team on our schedule that will do to us what they’re going to do [to us], so we’ll see what we’ve got.”
With a roster that includes only three freshmen, Jaques said Siena should benefit from a more veteran-laden group than in recent years.
“It’s nice to have most of the players back,” she said. “It’s nice to have seen the commitment they’ve made to improve their own games displayed in practice every day.”
Siena was picked to finished third in the MAAC in the league’s preseason poll, while junior guard Kollyns Scarbrough was a first-team selection and sophomore forward Jackie Benitez was a third-team pick. Playing Syracuse is the first hurdle for Siena this season, but Scarbrough said the Saints’ focus is on putting itself in position to win the MAAC.
“I think it’s very realistic,” Scarbrough said. “We have a very competitive team.”
Last season, Siena went 10-10 in the league and its season ended with a loss to Iona in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament. The Saints won’t start MAAC play this season until a Dec. 1 matchup with Fairfield, and Jaques said she tried to craft a non-conference schedule which will allow her team to play against a number of different styles.
“Your non-conference games have to get you ready for the ebbs and flows of that conference season,” Jaques said.
She added: “And it starts with Syracuse.”
Against Rhode Island in its opener this past Friday, Syracuse picked up a 95-49 win. Syracuse forced Rhode Island into 43 turnovers in that game.
Jaques said Siena knows it needs to be better than that against Syracuse’s pressure in order to have a chance at an upset.
“We’ve got to control what we can control,” Jaques said, “and taking care of the ball is number one.”
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