Indianapolis, IN -- The Syracuse Orange wore out the Washington Huskies, earning a spot in the NCAA National Championship game at 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday at Banker's Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Indiana.
However, the Orange faced a double dose of puppy love as the University of Connecticut awaits the matchup to earn its fourth title in four years. But don't tell that to the Orange, as they are eager for the challenge that awaits them.
"It means everything," said Syracuse guard Brianna Butler on making it to the final game. "It is something you dream about when you are younger. It's an opportunity to play against a great team in UConn. It's just really exciting, and we are happy to be here."
The Orange's balanced effort and bench contributions proved to be more vital than the Huskies' two-man attack.
"Coach Q (Syracuse head coach Quentin Hillsman) talked about at the beginning of the season that you have to have seven starters and eight, nine and ten have to be important," Cornelia Fondren said. "All season we've had seven starters and people coming off the bench doing big things. It just says a lot about our bench, having others who can come in and make shots.
"We just play hard now as a team. It's win or go home now."
Syracuse (30-7) jumped out to an early lead, which it progressively built on to accomplish an eventual 80-59 victory over Washington (26-11).
The Orange opened the first period on a 5-0 run and eventually pushed their edge to 23-12 to close the first quarter.
Although Talia Walton managed nine points over the initial 10 minutes, the Huskies struggled to score and shot 28.6 percent from the field. Meanwhile, Syracuse had several role players step up and score as Fondren tallied six points off the bench and Brittney Sykes totaled seven. As a team, the Orange enjoyed 50 percent shooting efficiency.
Over the second period, Washington stuck with the Orange as Walton added 10 more points, but didn't make up any ground and went into the break trailing 43-31. Syracuse was led by an active bench that contributed 13 points, collectively.
The bench points proved to be crucial over the course of the game for the Orange as they outscored the Huskies 23-3 in that facet.
"They do a really good job of rotating in fresh legs, and everyone plays super hard on their team," Kelsey Plum said. "Credit their coaching staff for having a great plan. And they hit shots tonight, hit big shots. And then put a lot of pressure on us. So we were kind of -- I struggled getting us into offense and gotta credit them.
"They had a great gameplan, and they executed it."
Additionally, they nearly doubled Washington's points in the paint with 26 to its 14 and managed more than twice as many points off turnovers, 20-9.
Fondren and Taylor Ford provided the biggest spark off the bench with 10 and eight points, respectively; while Alexis Peterson, Brianna Butler, and Sykes paced Syracuse offensively with 18, 12 and 17 points respectively.
"My teammates got me going," Fondren said. "My teammates have a lot of confidence in me, and I really appreciate them. I think as a team we take advantage of our mismatches and people coming in contributing -- me and Taylor and Maggie and Bria -- we just want to do what we have to do to win the game."
The Orange also ended the competition with an incredible rebounding advantage, besting the Huskies, 46-28, on the boards with 17-second chances and only four given up at the other end. Briana Day led the effort with 15 rebounds for Syracuse.
Washington was led on the glass by Chantel Osahor with 14 rebounds, while Walton finished as the high scorer of the game with 29 points. Plum also finished in double figures with 17 points. The pair accounted for all but 13 of the Huskies total.
"I just wanted to come out and play like it was my last game, obviously hoping that it wasn't," Walton said. "But just knowing that it could potentially be my last game, and I wanted to do what I could to give my team the best chance to win."
Up next, the Orange will have their hands full against UConn in the National Championship. They plan to approach the game with the same mentality they've been playing with for the last month and a half.
"I think we just have to play hard," Fondren said. "Regardless of the game or who you play, you can't take anyone for granted at this point. We don't take our opponents lightly. Washington had a good game today. We just want to go out there and compete."