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Orange looks to continue historic NCAA tournament run against Kentucky without star Sykes

first_imgA couple of years ago, Quentin Hillsman discovered a way to shake up Syracuse’s practices and pose a challenge to his players.He’d interrupt scrimmages and announce a situation: Leading scorer Brittney Sykes has fouled out. Or, top shooter Brianna Butler has fouled out.Someone else would need to come in, and the team would have to adapt and get it done, regardless of personnel.“I think that really helped us in this game,” Hillsman said in the postgame press conference following SU’s win over Chattanooga on Saturday. “It’s just like Britt(ney Sykes) fouled out in practice. “It’s time to make a decision. Are we going to feel sorry for ourselves and lay down, or are we going to compete and fight to win this basketball game?”AdvertisementThis is placeholder textThe head coach’s tactic came in handy against the Mocs as the Orange won its first-ever NCAA tournament game 59-53 despite Sykes, the Orange’s star guard, going down with what appeared to be a season-ending right knee injury in the second half. SU outrebounded, outdefended and outplayed Chattanooga en route to the first-round win.The journey without Sykes continues for at least one more game, when No. 6-seed seed Syracuse (23-9, 10-6 Atlantic Coast) takes on No. 3-seed Kentucky (25-8, 10-6 Southeastern) on Monday at 6:30 p.m. in Memorial Coliseum in Lexington, Ky.The extent of Sykes’ right knee injury remains unknown, but Hillsman said that she will sit out SU’s Round of 32 game against Kentucky, before being evaluated further in Syracuse this week. “You’ve got to go in there expecting to win the basketball game,” Hillsman said, “but it is tough when you lose a player and you don’t know exactly what’s going on. It’s kind of mixed emotions.”After Sykes was helped off the court with 12:46 left in the game, Butler shook off her shooting slump to lead the Orange’s offense the rest of the way. The sophomore netted nine points in the second half and, despite finishing 2-of-12 for the game, hit game-clinching free throws down the stretch.As a whole, the Orange didn’t shoot particularly well from the field — just 31.5 percent for the game.“We just needed everyone to crash and get the rebounds and put it back up and keep playing hard and fight through our missed shots,” Butler said in the postgame press conference. “Everyone is going to miss but it’s the people who continue to play hard that make a difference.”Thanks to Syracuse’s energy on the offensive glass, the team had a handful of second-chance opportunities, including 14 points off offensive rebounds in the first half. The Orange grabbed 19 offensive boards in the half to Chattanooga’s 21 defensive rebounds.Out of Sykes’ team-high 12 rebounds, five were off SU misses. SU center Shakeya Leary corralled eight rebounds for the game, and five of those were shots the Orange missed.“We were getting good looks at the time, we just weren’t able to convert that into points,” Butler said, “but we were able to pick it up on the defensive end and get rebounds, which took place of the missed shots.”Even with Sykes tearfully forced to watch the end of the game on the bench with a bag of ice on her elevated right knee, her teammates were able to finish the game for her. On Monday night, they’ll face a Kentucky team that rolled No. 14-seed Wright State by 46 points Saturday, and will once again be on its home court.But Hillsman’s practice method had his players ready to move on without Sykes against Chattanooga. Now, they’ll have to be ready for a full game.Said Leary during the postgame press conference: “I think Coach Q did a great job this season preparing us by putting us through tough situations in practice. “It just carried over.” Comments Published on March 24, 2014 at 1:05 am Contact Phil: [email protected] | @PhilDAbb Facebook Twitter Google+last_img read more