All season long, it's been automatic.

Syracuse attackers Kayla Treanor and Alyssa Murray could bet defenses would use double teams in an attempt to shut them down.

But to their surprise in Friday's NCAA women's lacrosse semifinal, No. 6 Virginia played each player straight up and paid the price because of it.

Treanor and Murray combined for 10 goals and six assists — outscoring Virginia — to give the No. 2 Orange a 16-8 victory and a chance to claim the program's first national title Sunday against No. 1 Maryland.

Heading into Friday's semifinal, Treanor was the nation's leader in points, with 73 goals and 34 assists, while Murray was fifth, with 56 goals and 41 assists.

The duo expected to experience the feeling of deja vu at the sight of Virginia's sliding defense.

"We were actually a little surprised they didn't double, they didn't go quick," Syracuse coach Gary Gait said. "We prepped for that — a quick double team. When we realized they weren't doing that, we said, 'Hey, you two, take the ball, get it done."

In Syracuse's 11-9 quarterfinal win against Boston College, Treanor and Murray got off to a slow start, combining for no goals in the first half and just three the entire game.

But on Friday, that wasn't the case. The Syracuse attack took quick advantage with long, deliberate possessions that ended in a swarm of players in white jerseys and neon orange cleats celebrating while the Cavaliers hung their heads.

Treanor, a sophomore, took advantage of a one-on-one opportunity just 55 seconds into the game to give the Orange a lead it did not relinquish.

"If they were going to play straight up, we were ready for that," Treanor said.

Murray also found herself being guarded straight up. The senior attacker found the net for the first time nearly 10 minutes into the game, off an assist from Treanor, before adding three more goals in the first half to boost Syracuse's lead to 9-3 going into halftime.

"Not having a double team is just something we haven't faced in a while, so I think that's maybe why they tried to do it," Murray said.

Virginia coach Julie Myers said the game plan was in fact to have her defense slide over to help guard Treanor and Murray. But based on each player's ability to find cutting teammates off of stack plays early in the game, Myers said, Virginia defenders were often rattled and stayed home.

"Their best players were impossible to stop between Alyssa Murray and Kayla Treanor," Myers said.

Despite Syracuse's offensive onslaught, Gait didn't want his defense to go unsung after the game. The Orange never allowed the Cavaliers to find a rhythm, forcing them to rush possessions.

"I think this is the best team defense I've seen our defense play all year," senior defender Kasey Mock said.

Seventeen Virginia turnovers gave the ball back to the Syracuse attack, particularly Treanor and Murray with just one defender separating them from the net.

Virginia's Morgan Stephens was one of those defenders, given the daunting task of matching up with Treanor.

"She just has great moves. She dodges quick and ...," Stephens paused and put her hand over her face before cracking a smile to mask her tears.

Myers interjected.

"She's right-handed, she's left-handed. She feeds, she scores. She has too many weapons to really limit, you know, totally and effectively," Myers said. "And she's got great teammates that are there for her as well.

"I think that's what Morgan meant to say."

adodson@baltsun.com

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