‘A different level’: Kiara Lewis exceeds SU’s expectations this season

first_img Published on March 4, 2020 at 10:08 pm Contact David: ddschnei@syr.edu When Tiana Mangakahia announced she would return to Syracuse for her senior season last April, it meant Kiara Lewis would again back her up. Lewis’ father, Gary, remembered telling his daughter they had to accept that playing in the WNBA was “questionable.”Three months later, on Aug. 1, 2019, Mangakahia revealed she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She would miss the entire 2019-20 season. Lewis, who sat out a year due to NCAA transfer rules in 2017-18 and then played behind Mangakahia as a backup, would finally get her chance to start.At the Orange’s media day, less than a month before the start of the 2019-20 season, Hillsman and SU’s players were questioned about Lewis’ ability to replace one of the nation’s top point guards. “Not concerned at all,” Hillsman said. Lewis followed that up with, “it’s my time.”She was right. She proved herself as Syracuse’s (15-14, 9-9 Atlantic Coast) best player, one of the top talents in the conference and a WNBA prospect. The All-ACC first-team selection and two-time College Sports Madness national player of the week led the Orange with 17.9 points and five assists per game while ranking 11th in the nation with 1,090 minutes played (37.6 per game). SU hasn’t met its usual expectations this season — a near .500 record and a resume that will fall short of an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament — but with SU’s NCAA tournament hopes reliant on an ACC tournament run, Lewis is a reason Hillsman still has confidence — for this week and for the future.“We’re here right now because she stepped into a role and filled some shoes that people thought that we would really struggle with,” Hillsman said.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textRoshan Fernandez | Asst. Digital EditorIn her first SU start, Lewis nearly posted a triple-double — 16 points, eight rebounds and seven assists — in Syracuse’s season opener against Ohio. Despite Hillsman acknowledging Lewis as a “score-first” guard while Mangakahia is “pass-first,” SU’s offense didn’t significantly change from last year, Hillsman said, except for one difference: the angles of screens set for Lewis to create more space and initiate downhill drives, unlike Mangakahia, who thrived in tight quarters.But as Syracuse started to face tougher opponents, like then-No. 1 Oregon and then-No. 3 Stanford, Lewis began to struggle. In an overtime loss to Green Bay on Nov. 30, she fouled out with 2:47 remaining and the Orange up by five. The Phoenix’s Lyndsey Robsen sunk a half-court heave at the buzzer to force overtime, and Lewis was forced to watch SU’s second-straight loss from the sidelines — one that dropped it out of the top-25 for good.“When she fouled out, it came back to bite her,” Cooper said. “That’s something that’s been in her head the rest of the year. She’s the type of person where once that happens, it won’t happen again.”When Lewis had four fouls at the start of the fourth quarter at Boston College on Feb. 6, she knew she had to stay on the floor to help preserve a nine-point lead, she said. Lewis played conservative defense and opted for jumpers rather than drives in an eventual 89-79 win, the first of a five-game SU win streak in conference play. The Green Bay contest was her only foul-out of the season, despite finishing 11 games with four fouls each.Roshan Fernandez | Asst. Digital EditorPlaying over 15 minutes per game more than last season, Lewis initially struggled with the workload — not knowing “how to recover the next day or the day after,” she said. But quickly, she learned the most effective method was simply staying off her feet, whether that came from Hillsman limiting how much she practiced or staying in bed all day. Lewis played all 40 minutes in eight of SU’s final 13 games.Whether it was hitting the game-winning layup with 4.6 seconds left against Virginia Tech on Jan. 30 or setting the pick for Emily Engstler’s buzzer-beating layup in an overtime win against then-No. 8 Florida State on Jan. 2, Lewis was the catalyst in turning around SU’s season. Of her team-high nine 20-point games, four came in the final eight contests of the year.“I’ve stepped my game up to a different level,” Lewis said.When Hillsman phoned Gary on Monday and told him Lewis made the All-ACC First Team, Gary yelled through the house. “We never would have thought that would happen,” he said. A year ago, Gary could tell Lewis was “damaged” during their film reviews over the phone — sessions she was “high-spirited” for this season.Lewis came into this season looking to prove herself. Even after a career year, she still feels she has more.“I don’t think I’m getting the respect I deserve but it’s nothing I’m not used to,” Lewis said. “I’ve always played with a chip on my shoulder, even in high school, and I’m going to continue to do it.” Comments Facebook Twitter Google+last_img