May 23, 2014

Practice Notes and Quotes: Women's Final Four

by Megan Schneider | | Twitter | May Madness Home

In order to topple Syracuse, which is quite the feat given the Orange's historical season, Virginia will need to hang on to the ball and make the most of their possessions. (Peyton Williams)

In preparation for tonight's NCAA semifinals, Syracuse, Maryland, Virginia and Northwestern were each allotted an hour and a half to practice, yet they all approached the first day of the weekend quite differently. Whether it had to do with the fact that practices were open to the media or if that is their usual style in the postseason remains unknown, but the Final Four teams will likely be going through their playbook in this morning's closed practices.

With the first and hottest practice at 9 a.m., Virginia ended with a fun game of kickball to lighten the mood. As coach Myers said, "kickball has turned into our game and we're horrible and I think that's kind of the funny part of it too that we still stink at it." Syracuse then practiced the whole time, staying focused on perfecting various skills on the field, while Maryland followed with a lighter practice like Virginia, ending with a series of relay races full of trick passes. Lastly, in the coolest practice of the day as the clouds started to roll in, Northwestern surprisingly only used about an hour of their allotted time because coach Amonte Hiller said her team doesn't need to spend "a million hours physically," but rather just be ready come game day.

No. 6 Virginia

What To Look For: Hard deny on Kayla Treanor by Morgan Stephens, assisted by senior defender Lauren Goerz

The Cavaliers broke into their respective defensive and offensive crews to prepare for Syracuse, with the offense focusing on fast ball movement around the arc, as well as dodges through double teams. But it was evident that the coaches spent more time with the defense, prepping the double teams for today. Virginia expects the double teams from the Orange, especially Bocklett, and will certainly double right back when possible against Treanor and Murray like Boston College did fairly successfully last week. Also, don't expect Virginia to be having many substitutes.

"I think their pressure defense is just going to wreak havoc on all our perimeter players and they're going to slide really quick to that inside player, whether or not it's a faceguard or just a backer which turns into a double when you penetrate," said Myers. "Hopefully it's not two kids you have to dodge in the end. If you let that ball work and attack that backside, it's really hard to slide and cover that defensively."

No. 2 Syracuse

What To Look For: Isolation plays (Cue Kayla Treanor and Alyssa Murray)

Why so serious? Syracuse was the only team to use the full practice time and did not partake in any fun or games like other teams did. The Orange worked on a variety of skills, including man-up scenarios and offensive plays right on the crease. The key players for Syracuse will be the two girls posting on either side of the cage on goal line extended for either a quick feed in if they have the ball, or a quick pass down for look to goal. The Orange offense will definitely include some iso plays and cutters coming off picks from the overloaded side. If Kayla Treanor or Alyssa Murray are faceguarded, look for Katie Webster and Bridget Daley to pick up the slack. Amy Cross and Erica Bodt – two girls you may not expect to be threats on offense – will also step in. On another note, be prepared to see their goalies try to intercept passes behind on defense.

"It started out with Northwestern, UNC and then BC tried to take the two of us out and we really showed that other people stepped up in big moments," said Murray. "All the midfielders we have on the field are very capable of scoring and when they try to take us out and send doubles quickly, it leaves them very vulnerable on the weak side so that's where we try to capitalize."

No. 1 Maryland

What To Look For: Feeding from behind, especially from redshirt junior attacker Brooke Griffin 

After some shuttle drills to warm up, the Terps practiced full-field clears with goalie Abbey Clipp passing to the midfield, instead of short passes near the cage. They also worked on their shot placement in front of the goal and coming off a crease roll. But the main focus for yesterday's practice was feeding, whether it be a quick stick pass from behind with top feeders like Griffin or a pass from up top to a cutter inside either rolling the crease or coming off a pick.

"Our attack back there [behind the goal] starts our offense," said Griffin. "We're good at feeding. We're good at finishing. So it's just easy having that feed come in."

No. 5 Northwestern

What To Look For: Increased pressure on the draw

With Maryland's fast pace that commands a majority of their games, Northwestern knows it needs to make the most of their opportunities when they do gain possession. Shot placement is key for the Wildcats, which they practiced yesterday from the front of the goal as well as the crease roll. Bianco completed repetitions on turns to prepare for the quick stick shots from Maryland's feeds, but one thing fans will definitely see is Northwestern crashing on the draw. They know they need a way to combat Maryland's strength in Cummings so Leonard spent extra time perfecting her draw pulls and pushes with girls on the circle and behind the restraining lines sprinting in.

"Taylor Cummings has had really great success," said Leonard. "She's quick. She's good in the air. I'm just going to focus on getting my sets, being aggressive up in the air as well and just making sure that we're locked in, whether it's the girls on the defensive end, the offensive end or on the circles, because they're a really scrappy team and we've got to make sure that we're going to keep up with them."

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