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Alaina Rice feels like she can do “a little bit of everything” for Syracuse. Wherever she’s needed, Rice says that’s her role on the team. Coming off the bench, especially on a team that lacks depth outside of its established starting five, she’s created a “spark,” her high school coach said.
Against Boston College, marred by a stop-and-go stretch of the season due to COVID-19 postponements and positive cases amongst the team, Rice did what she’s used to: “liven the whole place up.”
During a stretch in the first quarter when the Orange still had a grasp on BC, Rice heaved an off-balance shot from inside the paint, burying it from the right edge of the paint. On the opposite end of the court, Rice crouched and waited for Cameron Swartz to break inside.
Instead of swatting at the ball and further hindering an SU lineup already with foul trouble, she stood tall, leaned back and drew an offensive charge. To finish off the sequence, she swished through a catch-and-shoot 3-pointer. Rice then spun around at half court, looking to break up another Eagle’s possession, and intercepted a long pass to return the ball to the Orange.
SU lost to Boston College, but Rice finished with a career-high 17 points and six rebounds. Former coaches described Rice as a “quiet” kid who keeps to herself on the back of the bus with a custom PlayStation 5. But Rice — now at her third school in as many years — plays tough as an addition for Syracuse, continuing to spark the team’s defense and offense when it strays away from its fast-paced, aggressive formula.
“Alaina was the glue, if nothing else. That was probably her best attribute,” former Florida A&M head coach Kevin Lynum said. “She always came in with this high, positive spirit.”
Lynum first noticed the IMG Academy product in Atlanta at the annual Peach Jam event put on by Brandon Clay. Weary from a drive to Greensboro, North Carolina, Lynum questioned why he should even go down to Georgia. But he called the decision to go the “best decision I ever made.”
Lynum said Rice’s smooth play reminded him of former NBA star Dwyane Wade. She took the right shots and knew how to get other teammates — whom she’d never played with before — involved.
At FAMU, Rice established herself as a point guard, even though coaches had to consistently work on her shooting throughout high school and her first year in college. She couldn’t make shots from outside the arc, according to Reuben Williams, Rice’s coach at Rockledge (Florida) High School, and at both IMG and Florida A&M. But once Williams worked with Rice enough and showed her that she had the ability to score, the next challenge that she brought into college was the inability to stay under control at times.
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“One of the things we had to do … was build that confidence that you can take shots,” Lynum said. “However, being a freshman, that’s when she kind of got on the loose end and started forcing shots.”
Lynum and the rest of the Rattlers coaching staff had to “stay on her case,” mentoring her throughout the season to ensure she allowed her high-energy style of play and terrific ball-handling skills to become an asset for the team.
Rice said she’s still working on not forcing bad shots, like in Thursday’s game against Georgia Tech. The junior brought the ball up the court during the second quarter after a miss from Najé Murray, but instead of looking to her right for Chrislyn Carr or left for Alaysia Styles, Rice pulled up and clanked an off-balance mid-range shot off the rim, stifling an SU possession.
Rice was the sixth man in high school before she briefly found a spot in FAMU’s starting lineup as a freshman, and then returned to her role off the bench when she transferred to Auburn. She has since been unable to break through despite numerous hustle plays that her Syracuse teammates frequently point out. Rice has always been able to snuff out errant passes and force turnovers in transition, Williams said.
In the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, teams frequently press, Lynum said. While Rice needed to adjust to that strategy, Lynum had to demonstrate to Rice that she could still put one move on a person and blow by them, a skill she’s brought to a Syracuse team that almost exclusively utilizes a full-court press. Midway through the first quarter against Boston College, Rice buried a 3-pointer. She didn’t drift too far back into Syracuse’s half of the court, however, and knocked away a pass at half court to give possession back to the Orange.
“Alaina is playing a lot of minutes for us and she can play multiple positions for us,” acting head coach Vonn Read said. “She’s tough enough to play inside and she’s skilled enough to play out on the perimeter.”
The post When SU strays from its fast pace, Alaina Rice’s tough play provides a spark appeared first on The Daily Orange.