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Fair warning: Syracuse’s high-scoring Dyaisha Fair tough task for UConn women in NCAA second round

STORRS – At the end of the third quarter in the first-round NCAA Tournament game against Arizona Saturday night, Syracuse’s fifth-year guard Dyaisha Fair went down hard and had to be helped off the court.

But then she came back and scored and scored 13 of her 32 points in the fourth to lead Syracuse to a 74-69 win.

Fair, who said she had twisted her knee then fell and landed on it, said she was fine Sunday, ahead of Syracuse’s second-round NCAA Tournament game against UConn at Gampel Pavilion Monday (6 p.m., ESPN).

The 5-foot-5 guard has been one of the country’s most prolific scorers over her career at Syracuse (two years) and Buffalo (three years). She currently sits at fifth place in the all-time NCAA scoring ranks with 3,383 points, 10 behind Jackie Stiles (3,393) and 19 behind third-place Kelsey Mitchell of Ohio State (3,402). She has 111 3-pointers this season, trailing only Iowa’s Caitlin Clark (171).

She averages 22 points per game but her fourth-quarter scoring in big games has been what has set her apart this season. Twice, in regular-season wins over Notre Dame, Fair came up big in the fourth quarter. Saturday, she scored 11 straight points in the fourth to rally her team past Arizona.

“We love it,” her teammate Kennedi Perkins said. “We know when she’s cooking, give her the ball. We’ll rebound. We’ll get her open if we need to. But when Dyaisha gets going, who can stop her?”

UConn coach Geno Auriemma wasn’t sure his team will be able to.

“She is going to go off,” Auriemma said. “She is going to score a lot of points. That’s what she does. She’s really good at it. I don’t know you’re going to be able to go, ‘Hey, make sure she gets 10 tonight.’ It will be more like, ‘Can we keep her under 20?’ That would be a great accomplishment.

“Sometimes one player can be that dominant. I think she is that dominant. And I don’t think one player on our team is going to be able to do it by herself.”

Referencing other games this season where UConn has struggled against high-scoring guards, he said, “Those games – except for the NC State game – the struggle for us was as much offensively as defensively. Even when guards get 30-something, as (Notre Dame’s Hannah) Hidalgo did, the score was 60-60 going into the fourth quarter and we fell apart offensively.

“I don’t know you can just go out and take somebody out of the game that’s that good, on the other end, you’ve got to score and continue to score the entire game. We know she’s going to score, and we hope we’re going to score.”

Fair said her game is hard to stop because sometimes she doesn’t even know what she’s going to do next.

“The type of player I am, you don’t know what you’re going to get, you don’t know what decision I’m going to make,” she said. “It’s kind of hard for teams to scout that defensively.

“I think it’s because you just really never know. You don’t know if I’m going to shoot the ball. You don’t know if I’m going to make a pass. You don’t know if I’m going to go by or try to get by. You just never know. I say that because I never know myself. I just go with the flow.”

Arizona coach Adia Barnes knew exactly what Fair would bring Saturday night and was hard-pressed to stop her in the Wildcats’ loss.

“She’s really good, and she’s really hard to guard,” Barnes said. “That was a big concern coming in, and she just really took over the game.”

Fair loves the fourth quarter – “Go time,” she called it Saturday night. She said she feels like her conditioning level is “unmatched.”

“The mindset I have going into the fourth is that it’s the last 10 minutes of the game, it’s either do or don’t,” Fair said. “I feel like overall our conditioning as a unit is unmatched. We’re able to sustain a full 40-minute game. If you ask me, we’re able to sustain even more if we have to.

“Fourth quarter is normally the hardest, but I feel like for me, it’s the easiest.”

Guarding Fair won’t be one player’s responsibility but team defense will be important, UConn senior guard Nika Muhl said.

“We have a lot of respect for their whole team and especially for her,” Muhl said. “She’s their leader, she’s going to have the ball most of the time but I feel like through my four years here, we’ve faced a lot of teams like that that are very guard-dominant and they have that one player that the ball is going to go to and everybody’s going to look at her.

“It’s going to come down to team defense and rebounding – a lot of it has to do with them not getting those second shots and it’s not just on our big guys to do that, it’s on us guards too to box out and help them, too.”