After nearly a month of play, the Syracuse Orange women’s basketball team is currently situated in the 20th spot among all Division I teams in the rankings. A few tough breaks along the way would likely have kept them higher, yet there’s still two games left to go even before they begin ACC play on December 29 against the Louisville Cardinals.
In the Gulf Coast Showcase on Thanksgiving weekend, Syracuse came away with a three-point win over George Washington. However, one day later, they lost in the final minute of a deadlocked game against the Ohio State Buckeyes, then closed things out the next day on the short end of a 108-84 loss to DePaul.
The only other blemish on the Orange schedule was a November 21st loss at Drexel that came on a three-pointer with just nine seconds left. That’s means that Syracuse is achingly close to being 8-1 on the year and has since bounced back from the DePaul loss to collect victories over Michigan State, Central Connecticut, Coppin State, and Niagara.
The success of the Orange begins and ends with the starting backcourt of Alexis Peterson and Brittney Sykes. The duo are combining for roughly half of the team’s scoring so far, with the team's success at creating smooth ball movement going directly through them.
Peterson fell victim to a dislocated shoulder in last year’s title game against Connecticut, but has simply picked up where she left off last year. That means dishing off more than six assists every game and providing a harassing defense that helps lead the team with 32 steals.
Sykes’ performance is all the more inspiring, given the trials she’s faced over the past few years that included suffering two ACL injuries within a span of 10 months. There’s no indication of any residual impact this year, with a 17.2 scoring average coupled with the ability to compete in the paint. In the latter category, she’s tied for the team lead in rebounds at 8 per game and also has a team-high nine blocked shots.
Joining the duo in the scoring parade is another player who’s shown strong form in returning from injury. Center Bria Day’s recovery from offseason shoulder surgery made her a question mark entering the season. Day has provided the answer by contributing just under 13 points per game and matching Sykes in the rebounding department.
The abundance of talent at guard for Syracuse is such that they use a three-guard lineup to take advantage of the talent that freshman Gabby Cooper brings. Her three-point shot is still a work in progress, yet she does bring the type of fight the Orange will need in ACC play.
The Orange as a team still need to sharpen down their long range shooting and also clamp down on opposing teams in that area. Four games may not be enough time to fine tune those edges, but the ultimate test will end up coming coming in March when the postseason arrives.