Kayla Alexander glanced down at her teammates perched behind a row of microphones Friday.
Fidgeting at the press table, the slightest of grins appeared at the corner of the Syracuse center’s stare.
“I don’t know about the rest of you guys,” the senior said. “But I’m extremely motivated.”
She certainty doesn’t have to look far for motivation.
Alexander and the Orange are hoping to embark on uncharted territory today — an NCAA women’s basketball tournament win.
“It’s just good to be seeded,” Syracuse coach Quentin Hillsman said.
The No. 7-seeded Orange (24-7) will take on No. 10-seeded Creighton (24-7) at 11:20 a.m. (TV: ESPN2) at Thompson-Boling Arena for a first-round game in the Oklahoma City Regional.
The winner will face the either No. 2 Tennessee or No. 15 Oral Roberts on Monday.
Syracuse is 0-4 all-time in the NCAA tournament. Today is the Orange’s first tournament appearance since 2008.
This season also saw the Orange reach the Big East tournament semifinals for the first time since 2002.
And in a year draped in firsts for Syracuse, Alexander looks to cap her stellar senior season with yet another.
“We came here and we know that the rule of the NCAA tournament is survive and advance,” Alexander said. “And that’s what we’re trying to do this year. We’re going to take it one game at a time and focus on what we need to get it done.”
Alexander, Syracuse’s all-time leading scorer, also lugs the Orange’s 2-3 zone defense into a game against a contrasting, 3-point-happy Creighton offense.
The Bluejays have made the second-most 3-pointers in the country.
But Hillsman said he isn’t concerned about the conflicting styles, pointing to the many banners flying from the Carrier Dome rafters behind Jim Boeheim’s famed zone defense for reassurance.
“A lot of people look at the zone and say why would guard a team who shoots the ball in a zone?” he said. “For us, it’s about contesting shots. This is what we do. We’ve been very solid in our scheme and style of play.”
When Creighton coach Jim Flanery took to the microphone Friday, a light-hearted vibe filled the Thompson-Boling Arena backroom.
The tense moments for the Bluejays were reserved for the bracket’s unveiling last Monday.
Creighton earned its first at-large bid since 1994 and anxiously waited until it was announced as the second-to-last paring in the field. And the Bluejays watched and waited in a public forum.
“We were like why did we do this in public? It’s going to be bad,” Creighton forward Sarah Nelson laughed. “Then we turned and we all just freaked out. I can’t even explain how happy we all are.”
“It was a long 40-minute wait,” Flanery added.
Creighton is making its first back-to-back NCAA tournament appearance in school history.
Last season, the Bluejays lost in the first round to St. John’s on a buzzer-beater. St. John’s finished third in the Big East last season, just as Syracuse did this season.
“There’s a lot of orange here with Syracuse and Tennessee,” Flanery said. “But we’re hoping to have a blue weekend.”
Riley Blevins is a freelance contributor