Tiana Mangakahia admits that the intense grind of the Syracuse University women’s basketball schedule has taken a physical toll, but her performance continues to tell a different story.

The fifth-year point guard entered Thursday’s games ranked second nationally and leading the Atlantic Coast Conference averaging 7.9 assists per game for SU after sitting out last season while recovering from Stage 2 breast cancer.

Earlier this week, Mangakahia was named a top 10 national finalist for the Nancy Lieberman Award to recognize the nation’s top point guard and she finished the month of January with an average of 9.8 assists across seven games.

That comprised a majority of the most grueling recent slate in NCAA Division I women’s college basketball. Syracuse (9-4 overall, 6-4 ACC) has played seven games since Jan. 17, the most for any team in the country during that stretch.

SU is also the only ACC team to twice play four games in a span of eight days, ending the latest stretch Thursday night against Wake Forest.

“We just have to keep pushing through,” Mangakahia said during a recent media Zoom conference. “It’s going to be like this now and probably for the rest of the season, a lot of games in a short period of time, and I think it gave us a good idea of what it’s going to be like and how our bodies are going to feel.”

Mangakahia had produced five games with double-digit assist totals over her last seven entering Thursday and is the only ACC player to record at least 10 assists in a game this season.

Over her past six outings, the 5-foot-6 native of Brisbane, Australia, has twice matched her season high of 19 points and logged 35 minutes or more on five occasions. During a victory over Notre Dame last Sunday, Mangakahia splashed home a season-high five 3-pointers while nearly accumulating her second career triple double with 19 points, 11 assists and nine rebounds.

“She’s a fantastic shooter and I try to tell her, don’t pass up any open shots, when they go under screens or they bluff you, make them pay,” SU coach Quentin Hillsman said afterward. “She just makes open shots and some really good decisions.”

Despite providing such strong contributions, Mangakahia said that she has yet to feel 100 percent back to her former self prior to the spending last season recovering away from the court and going 615 days between games.

In her first two seasons at SU, Mangakahia became the fastest in program history to surpass the century mark with 1,114 points to go with a program-record 591 assists. She was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer in June 2019 and underwent two surgeries and eight rounds of chemotherapy to be declared cancer-free in November that year.

Mangakahia has started 12 of 13 games during her comeback campaign entering Thursday and is averaging 10.8 points and 3.8 rebounds while shooting 88.9 percent on free throws to go with her ACC-leading assists average.

“Some days I feel amazing and other days my body does not want to move,” Mangakahia said. “I think I will definitely be, maybe not 100 percent, but towards there, it just depends on the day. I also think all these games back-to-back is taking a toll, I feel like I’m like a 50-year-old, but I feel like I will get there and it’s a lot of mental struggle as well as physical.”

Mangakahia is a finalist for the Lieberman Award for the third time in her career and she reached top-five status in 2019, her last active season.

The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame announced the list, aiming to recognize candidates that exhibit the floor leadership, play-making and ball-handling skills of Class of 1996 Hall of Famer Nancy Lieberman.

Five finalists will be announced in March and the winner will be presented April 9. Syracuse fans can help the effort by voting for Mangakahia at HoophallAwards.com beginning at 1 p.m. today.

Meanwhile, she is focused on helping SU gear up toward a successful postseason and playing more consistently down the stretch. The Orange received votes in the Associated Press Top 25 and Coaches Poll this week after dropping out of each ranking for the first time this season the week prior.

“We have really good players and I think it’s all mental,” Mangakahia said. “When we do get in those funks, we need to stay positive and push through. … I really think it has a lot to do with our mental aspect and we need to remember how good we are.”

STRAUTMANE GETS TO 1,000

Syracuse senior forward Digna Strautmane scored her 1,000th career point during a loss to Georgia Tech on Tuesday. She finished the game with 1,006 points for her four-year SU tenure.

The 6-foot-2 native of Riga, Latvia, became the 31st player in program history to reach the milestone and is the third active member of the team to join the exclusive club along with Mangakahia and Kiara Lewis.

CARDOSO REPEATS ACC HONOR

Syracuse center Kamilla Cardoso garnered her second straight ACC Freshman of the Week award.

The 6-foot-7 center averaged 14.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 6.5 blocks while leading the Orange to a pair of victories last week. She leads the ACC with a 61.2 field goal percentage and 3.33 blocks per game.

Syracuse has been represented in the ACC Freshman of the Week category for three straight weeks as forward Priscilla Williams preceded the consecutive honors for Cardoso.

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