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How the Hell is Syracuse WBB Scoring Without Brittney Sykes?

Syracuse keeps on scoring even with top scorer, Brittney Sykes, sitting on the sidelines with an injury.

Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

The leading scorer averaged three points a game last year. The dominant center never started a game before the start of the season. The do-it-all combo guard came from a Tennessee college in the Ohio Valley Conference.

And, meanwhile, Syracuse's best offensive threat continues to watch from the bench. Junior guard Brittney Sykes is rehabbing from knee surgery and hasn't played a game so far. Quentin Hillsman has hinted that Sykes is getting closer, but it will be another week before she's re-evaluated and could get back on the court.

Still, with every game and every win, Sykes' absence seems to hurt the Orange less and less. The No. 20 Syracuse Orange is 6-1 this season, with its only loss against the top-ranked South Carolina Gamecocks. The Orange hasn't skipped a beat even without Sykes, who accounted for 22 percent of the team's scoring last year and was one of the most consistant rebounders.

"We have very good balance," Hillsman said. "We can score inside and outside. Our players really get up and down the floor and get easy baskets. That's the biggest thing for us right now - just scoring in transition."

Hillsman blends the traditional 2-3 zone with some fullcourt press, a mix that can be difficult for inexperienced teams to play against. In the last two wins, Syracuse has outgained opponents in fast-break points by a four-to-one ratio.

Without Sykes, Syracuse needed its role players to play up to their potential and that's exactly what's happened. Alexis Peterson has gone from third-string point guard to leading scorer, averaging 12.7 points per game. She's continuing a trend of breakout seasons for Syracuse sophomores, similar to Kayla Alexander a few years ago and, more recently, Sykes.

"Being on the bench, you do learn a lot," Peterson said on his first year. "You learn to appreciate the game and it's also a great opportunity to humble yourself and cheer teammates on."

Syracuse has another three players who average at least ten points -- junior guard Brianna Butler, sophomore center Briana Day and Diamond Henderson, a transfer from Tennessee Tech.

Hillsman hasn't asked one player to replace Sykes' production, instead using a deep rotation of players to make up the difference. He's quick to shuffle his lineup, make substitutions or try alternative offenses like using two point guards at once.

So far, it's worked.

In Syracuse's 94-63 win over Vermont, the Orange had 11 players get into the game, nine players make a field goal and six players score at least ten points.

"Everyone can score," point guard Cornelia Fondren said. "We have different components. When we play a team, they don't know who to guard. It might be one person's night or another person's night. It might be everybody's night. You never know with us."

The Orange scores about 73 points per game and shoots about 39.6 percent. Those numbers are on pace with the last year's totals. But it could be a lot worse considering that two starters graduated, while Sykes has been inactive and Isabella Slim has been somewhat ineffective.

Right now, six of the top seven scorers didn't start for the team last season. And its returning starter, Butler, has even worse shooting numbers than before. With Butler's struggles, Syracuse hasn't had a consistent three-point shooting threat on most nights.

The return of Sykes won't fix that deficiency, but it'll help almost everything else.

"Hopefully she can come in whenever that is, contribute and contribute at the same rate she was at," Hillsman said. "If she comes back and does that, we could score 98 points a game, right?"