Syracuse women’s basketball’s backcourt is carrying the team on its back

first_img Published on January 26, 2017 at 12:23 am Contact Matthew: [email protected] | @MatthewGut21 Even as Brianna Butler and Cornelia Fondren left Syracuse’s backcourt, even as SU dropped out of the Top 25, even as the Orange’s hopes for a Final Four repeat dim with each road loss, one thing has remained constant. Night in and night out, the duo of Peterson and Sykes continues to dazzle fans, perplex defenses and carry Syracuse.A couple of weeks ago, they combined for 62 points in a comeback victory against North Carolina State. Peterson exploded for a program- and Carrier Dome-record 45 points. At Georgia Tech two weeks ago, the duo scored 53 of SU’s 66 points. Sunday, the pair outscored No. 14 Miami. By themselves.Peterson and Sykes might be the nation’s most dangerous backcourt. With eight more regular-season games over the next month, Syracuse (14-7, 5-3 Atlantic Coast) needs more of the same. “We are a new era of women’s backcourt guards,” said Peterson, a senior who averages a league-leading 24.3 points per game. “It’s something that we take pride in, we look forward to when we go out and play. We’re the best backcourt in country.”SU head coach Quentin Hillsman knows that the main reason his team can excel is the synergy of two guards whose production far exceeds their personal glory. It starts with prioritizing speed on offense, a necessity in Hillsman’s fast-paced system. AdvertisementThis is placeholder textWhile Peterson can work in isolation or off high-ball screens, Sykes can slash. In sets, either takes command of the play or resets the scheme. In transition, they’re a deadly force, as Sykes provides the speed and penetration that Peterson does not match. If Peterson is artful, Sykes is explosive. “When one’s feeling it, taking over, the other has to be alright with that,” SU assistant coach Tammi Reiss said. “They have to realize, wow, we’re winning this game because of this. In Oklahoma City, with Kevin Durant and Russell (Westbrook), there’s a reason why one left. Buying into the we — that’s a hard thing to do.”For years, the combo had yet to unveil its potential. By her sophomore year in 2013-14, Sykes averaged 16.6 points per game. When an injury sidelined her the next season, Peterson grabbed a starting job. She’s never looked back in the two seasons since. Last year, as Sykes recovered from knee injuries that limited her ability to take over a game, Peterson continued to shine. They hadn’t both peaked at the same time — until now, clicking in their final months of college basketball. “They were always able to be Superman,” Reiss said. “Now you’ve got two supermen.”Reiss’ biggest question heading into conference play was how the pair would play together. Several weeks ago, Hillsman sat with Sykes and Peterson. He told them about sharing the basketball while still keeping aggressive mindsets. “Being superman doesn’t always mean scoring all the time,” he told them. “Drive and make the right pass for somebody else to knock it down.” Even with the ball in her hands most of the time, Peterson turns its over a paltry three times a game. She averages seven assists and 3.1 steals per game to go along with Sykes’ 8.1 rebounds average and 19 total blocks. On the year, they take 47 percent of the team’s shots.Off the floor, they send each other congratulatory texts and memes. On it, their relationship is just as close, even if one may roll her eyes at the other for not passing. In these situations, the only adjustments they make are small. But they are critical. At timeouts, Sykes has told Peterson she’s wide open running the wing. Peterson might acknowledge that she saw her but felt there were other options. “It can be really hard when you have a point guard with the scoring mentality that Lex has,” Sykes said. “You just have a freakishly athletic guard who can play at the 1, Lex at the 2, so you never get a break. It’s just really worked for us where you have two powerhouse guards playing off each other in an unselfish way.”Defenses have tried just about everything to stop them. They’ve flashed glimpses of matchup zone, rotating man and full- and half-court traps. Still, Peterson has reached double digits in every game this season and Sykes has failed to do so only once. “You’d think they deny or double team,” said Reiss, who works primarily with the guards. “I’d go triangle and two. Once Petey gets ball, I’d deny it. I’d deny all over the floor, take away as many shots attempts as possible.”By all accounts, the nation’s top-scoring backcourt is four years in the making. A series of pesky AAU battles starting in middle school, a pair of breakout seasons and letdowns have fused to create a dangerous monster. They’ve gone from a pair of score-first guards with unique skillsets to a force that’s changed Syracuse. If SU has any chance at a deep postseason run, Peterson and Sykes will be right in the thick of it. Comments Facebook Twitter Google+last_img

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