UConn ends the careers of Syracuse greats Alexis Peterson and Brittney Sykes
Evan Jenkins | Staff Photographer
STORRS, Conn. — Alexis Peterson and Brittney Sykes did their signature high-five after the game in front of TV cameras on the far end of the court. They then wrapped arms around each other and walked shoulder-to-shoulder down toward the SU bench as the small contingent of fans, many family and friends, cheered behind them.
The careers of eight-seeded Syracuse’s (22-11, 11-5 Atlantic Coast) two best players had just ended in a disappointing, 94-64, loss to top-seeded Connecticut (34-0, 16-0 American Athletic). The same team ended their season last year. Through a heavy loss, the two found each other, sharing their last moment as SU teammates together.
“We wanted to go out how we came in,” Peterson said after the game. “That was just to embrace everyone and embrace our crowd and embrace each other.”
Peterson was the star point guard who kept elevating her level of play each season. Sykes was a Top 10 guard in her recruiting class who had to battle back through multiple ACL injuries. This was the first season the two had played together when both were at their peaks.
The hype started as early as last season. When Sykes found out that her fifth year had been approved. When head coach Quentin Hillsman told her that SU would have the best backcourt in America if she returned.
The duo took off from there. They led the ACC in scoring, piloting Syracuse to wins where they’d outscore the other team themselves, like in the win over then-No. 14 Miami.
SU had the pressure of staying relevant, of remaining successful after last year’s run to the national title game despite the loss of five seniors. Sykes and Peterson shouldered that load and kept the Orange moving.
“Life savers. They saved our lives,” Hillsman said. “When you have players that come in and play that way, they just save your program. They really elevated our program to another level.”
The two played off each other all year, knowing when one had to take over the game and how their strengths worked together.
Peterson said she got lost in the moment in last year’s national title game. After the first quarter today, she was SU’s best and really only consistent scoring option, as she finished with 25 points. Noticing that, Sykes and Peterson made the decision to switch roles in the third quarter. Sykes would be the one bringing the ball up the court and she’d feed Peterson in spots to score.
“They’re very skilled in the backcourt,” UConn head coach Geno Auriemma said. “As individuals, they make a lot of great plays.”
The two had the utmost trust from Hillsman. With that came the highest of expectations, and many instances when he would yell at them after slipping up. The two would shoot each other a look, knowing they had each other’s back despite that.
With a little less than four minutes remaining, Sykes was subbed out. She didn’t realize it would be her last time walking off the court until she embraced Hillsman by the scorer’s table. As tears welled in her eyes she made her way down the SU bench, hugging every coach and player along the way.
One minute later Peterson was subbed out and went through the same routine. The last player at the end of the bench this time was Sykes. The duo that led Syracuse embraced then, and as the game ended, were the last two SU players to walk off the court.
They didn’t achieve their highest goal of winning a national championship. But they pioneered SU to new heights. And through the trials and tribulations of this year and the game, they left Gampel Pavilion the same way they came into the season: together.
“We’re America’s best backcourt,” Sykes said. “We will forever be America’s best backcourt.”
Published on March 20, 2017 at 11:33 pm