Brittney Sykes thrives atop Syracuse’s press

first_imgAs the front line of Syracuse’s press, Brittney Sykes stood her guard. She stared down Notre Dame’s Lindsay Allen just behind half court, using the full breadth of her 5-foot-9 frame to stall her.In a brief moment of panic, Allen slung the ball cross-court to Michaela Mabrey. Sykes followed. She double-teamed Mabrey with Cornelia Fondren, forcing a quick pass back to Allen. Sykes followed. She stood at the top of the key as the UND guard dished it down low to Brianna Turner, boxed in by four SU defenders. Sykes stopped.She didn’t follow the ball. Instead she backed away, standing slightly outside the open passing lane from Turner to Mabrey. Sykes pounced the instant Turner let go of the ball, and punctuated the disorderly possession with a steal using her outstretched left arm.Mission accomplished.“My purpose at the top of the press is to disrupt,” Sykes said. “If I’m not doing that, then what am I there at the top for?AdvertisementThis is placeholder text“I just think in my head: ‘Make sure you get a deflection. Disrupt the pass. Blur the vision of the ball handler.’”In that 12-second span against the No. 2 Fighting Irish on Sunday, Sykes did all three. Being “long and lanky” is the first thing friends on other teams tell her about her scouting report. But finally she’s using it to her advantage, blossoming into a focal point of No. 14 Syracuse’s (25-7, 13-3 Atlantic Coast) defense that could face some of nation’s best offenses next week in the NCAA tournament.Her 66 takeaways is a new career high, and Sykes’ 2.2 steals per game is sixth-most in the conference to round out a top 10 that features four other Orange teammates. Sykes admits she’s only one piece of SU’s elaborate defensive puzzle, but she’s emerged as an active force atop Syracuse’s press.It’s a spot she could be doubted to perform in with a twice-torn right ACL, but is deftly navigating the open space up top in the eyes of her head coach.“(Sykes) is a little more confident in her slides,” head coach Quentin Hillsman said. “She has a little more freedom at the top of our press, and I think she’s taking advantage of it.”The medical report on Sykes is no secret, and the bulky, black brace enclosing her right knee is an ever-present reminder. Hillsman pesters Sykes to stay active on defense, warning that upcoming opponents will target her if she appears stagnate on film.Nagging reminders turned to Hillsman screaming in the opening minutes of the Orange’s game against Georgia Tech on Feb. 7. Sykes was attacked. The Yellow Jackets repeatedly drove past her on the left, forcing Sykes to drop back on her fragile right knee.The same drives played out for six and a half minutes, before Hillsman summoned his veteran guard to the bench as Georgia Tech snatched an early lead. The head coach quipped to Sykes that the other team could see her frustration, and she was going to keep getting tested.“I just toughened up,” Sykes said. “You don’t ever want to make someone think you’re weak because they can build off of it.“Just (like) our press, if we think you’re a weak ball handler … we’re going to hone in on your weakness. You just have to toughen up.”She finished the contest with four steals, building off the prior three games in which she notched nine total takeaways. And the next game against Virginia, Sykes stole the ball a season-best five times to cap off one of the best defensive stretches of her career.She used to get bogged down and frustrated by the volume of deflections and near-steals. Now she’s grabbing the ball more frequently than ever. She used to wonder how her compromised right knee would respond to quick cuts. Now, her calling card on defense is movement.Sykes isn’t playing defense like she used to. She’s playing free, with as good a hold on her defensive abilities — and the ball — as ever. Comments Facebook Twitter Google+ Published on March 9, 2016 at 9:34 pm Contact Connor: [email protected] | @connorgrossmanlast_img read more

ICC Champions Trophy selection pleasing, says Shikhar Dhawan

first_imgShikhar Dhawan celebrated his inclusion in the ICC Champions Trophy squad with a match-winning unbeaten fifty for Sunrisers Hyderabad at the Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium in Uppal.Dhawan retained his place in the 15-member ODI squad having last played against England in January.”I was very happy that my name got into the Champions Trophy squad,” Dhawan said at the post match presentation ceremony after guiding Sunrisers to a seven-wicket win over Mumbai Indians.Dhawan was the highest run-scorer in the 2013 ICC Champions Trophy in England with 363 runs from five matches at 90.75 and was also named the player of the tournament.Batting first, Mumbai managed to score 138 for seven in 20 overs, thanks to captain Rohit Sharma’s 67 off 45 balls. The Sunrisers bowlers were disciplined and kept things tidy, with Siddarth Kaul finishing with 3/24 and Bhuvneshwar Kumar bagging 2/29. The Afghanistan duo of Mohammad Nabi and Rashid Khan bowled brilliantly and were economical as they pocketed a wicket each.Chasing a paltry target, Hyderabad lost captain David Warner in the second over before Dhawan (62 not out) and Moises Henriques (44) stitched together a 91-run partnership to set up a seven-wicket win.”Davey got out early and I knew that I had to stay out and take the team home,” he said.Dhawan, who is now the second highest run-getter with 450 runs in the IPL this season behind Warner, said his hard work paid off.”I have been feeling good, I was working on my technique and my consistency. All the work I put in with my love and heart is paying off now,” he said.advertisementlast_img read more