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Opponent Preview: No. 1 UConn women’s basketball vs. No. 8 Syracuse

The Huskies will meet the Orange in the round of 32 on Tuesday night.

NCAA Womens Basketball: High Point at Connecticut Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

UConn women’s basketball will face Syracuse in the second round of the NCAA tournament on Tuesday night. Syracuse is 14-8 on the season and finished fourth in the ACC with a 9-7 record.

The Orange rank 71st in Her Hoop Stats ratings of all 343 NCAA DI teams, similar to the Huskies’ Big East opponent Villanova — and not far ahead of High Point despite being an 8-seed. Syracuse ranks higher in the NET at 43rd, based on games through March 14th.

At the helm for the Orange is senior point guard and Nancy Lieberman Award finalist Tiana Mangakahia, who missed the ACC tournament with an injury but returned to play 39 minutes in the round of 64. She ranks second in the country with 7.4 assists per game, and has the dime on over 40 percent of Syracuse’s buckets while on the floor. Additionally, she averages 11.8 points per game.

Mangakahia is joined in the backcourt by redshirt senior Kiara Lewis, who leads the team in scoring at 14.8 points per game. However, Lewis has only shot 34 percent from the floor and 24 percent from three on the season.

In the frontcourt, 6-foot-7 freshman center Kamilla Cardoso has been fantastic for the Orange. She’s second on the team with 13.1 points per game and leads the squad in field goal percentage (56 percent) and boards (8.1 per game). Cardoso also makes her presence felt on the defensive end with a team-high 2.6 blocks per game.

Cardoso isn’t the only shot blocker in Syracuse’s line up. The Orange rank third nationally with 6.9 blocks per game and reject over 16 percent of their opponents two-point field goal attempts on the season.

Keys to the game for the Huskies:

Turn Syracuse over

The Orange cough the ball up on over 18 percent possessions this season with Mangakahia particularly susceptible to turnovers, averaging 4.9 per game. UConn should look to pick her pocket and get out in transition for easy offensive opportunities.

If Nika Muhl can’t go, the Huskies will miss her quick hands on defense to help turn Syracuse over. However, the combination of Chirstyn Williams, Evina Westbrook and Paige Bueckers should be enough to come up with some big steals.

How does Olivia Nelson-Ododa fair in the paint?

Cardoso’s size should present a challenging matchup for Nelson-Ododa inside. Nelson-Ododa thrived in the paint against a smaller High Point team but how she matches up with Cardoso will be a better barometer for what to expect from the junior in UConn’s upcoming tournament matchups — assuming it gets the win over Syracuse.

Three-point shooting

UConn scored 60 points in the paint against High Point on Sunday but Syracuse’s size and elite shot blocking could force the Huskies to find shots from outside to secure the win. Bueckers’ mid-range game will definitely help but UConn has struggled with outside shooting all season long. Look to see if the backcourt can get it going from deep in this matchup.

Predicted results

Per Her Hoop Stats, the Huskies have a 96.6 percent chance of coming up with the win over Syracuse, with a predicted margin of victory of 24.4 points.

The Orange’s largest loss of the season was by 24 points to North Carolina on Dec. 17. UConn will look to hand Syracuse an even larger defeat on Tuesday night.