FINAL FOUR BOUND: Syracuse buries Tennessee, 89-67, heading to 1st-ever Final Four

first_img Facebook Twitter Google+ SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Brittney Sykes and former player Michelle Van Dyke started planning well in advance for this moment. So had nearly every other Syracuse player and so had its head coach, Quentin Hillsman, who hasn’t shied away from his expectations of a national title once this season.So when the NCAA tournament started and the Orange saw the bracket, Sykes and Van Dyke realized: They could go to the Final Four. For them, it was never a matter of if. Sykes and Van Dyke knew, after winning the regional finals, they would dump a bucket of water on Hillsman.Hillsman told assistant coach Tammi Reiss to tell the team not to do it. He didn’t have another set of clothes and still had to go to the press conference. His players, after pressing the length of the court all season, forcing the most turnovers in the nation and shooting the third most 3s in the country, finally didn’t listen.“They got him good,” Reiss said as she walked out of the locker room.“Heck yeah it was my idea,” Sykes said. “… Hey, we had to do it. That’s something you got to do. That’s something you see in the movies. This is like a movie right now.”AdvertisementThis is placeholder textThe No. 4 seed Orange (29-7, 13-3 Atlantic Coast) reached its first-ever Final Four with an 89-67 win over No. 7 seed Tennessee (22-14, 8-8 Southeastern) on Sunday afternoon at the Denny Sanford Premier Center in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Two weeks ago, Sykes didn’t even know what state Sioux Falls was in. She left it with the biggest accomplishment of her basketball career.SU will next face No. 7 seed Washington in Indianapolis in the national semifinals when its movie-like season continues on Sunday.As the final buzzer sounded, teammates swarmed Syracuse point guard Alexis Peterson, who dropped to her knees at midcourt in celebration, who has scored at least 22 points in every NCAA tournament game so far, who has sparked SU all season.“I looked at my team. They said, ‘You got to suck it up, you got to play tough because we need you,’” Peterson said of hurting her hip. “It’s 40 minutes. If I have to play through, you know, being hurt or being injured, that’s what I was going to do. I didn’t want to let them down.”And she didn’t. Peterson, the region’s Most Outstanding Player poured in 29 points in 38 minutes and continued the hot streak she’s been on in this entire month.When the crowd around Peterson drifted back toward the bench, she got up and hugged Sykes, who had tears in her eyes, who recovered from two torn ACLs and who has boosted Syracuse this postseason after missing most of the last two.“We just knew that any team we came against, we would defeat them,” Sykes said, “because we knew that what we had on our team, we were capable of beating any team in this NCAA tournament.”Syracuse possessed a double-digit third-quarter lead against the Volunteers, but UT cut it all the way down to four at the beginning of the fourth quarter. The Lady Vols, despite going .500 in conference play and losing 13 games before Sunday, nearly clawed all the way back.Three days ago, Peterson said part of what makes this Syracuse run so special is that the Orange is making history. When the juniors and seniors entered the program, SU had never won an NCAA tournament game. In the past three years, Syracuse has won six. And four of them have come within the past two weeks. The most recent came against a program with 18 Final Four appearances.“Twenty years from now we’re going to be able to look back,” Peterson said on Thursday, “and say we were the ones who got this program to the highest ranking in school history, highest ranking in conference history, first Sweet 16.”Now she can another to that list: First-ever Final Four.After cutting down the nets, senior Maggie Morrison hugged her dad while wearing a commemorative hat.“I got to keep that on because my hair’s a little messy,” Morrison said.The season was a little messy, too. Syracuse lost back-to-back blowouts to Notre Dame and Louisville and it was 1-5 against ranked teams through January.But that’s when things turned around. The Orange won 15 of its next 16 games. Close losses turned into close wins. Since the start of February: 4-1 against ranked teams. Syracuse stayed the course and never deviated from Hillsman’s formula for winning: Try to hit 10 3s each game (it hit 14 against Tennessee) and force turnovers at a breakneck pace (it forced 21 against Tennessee).“Let’s just do what we do, and that’s press and shoot threes,” Hillsman said. “If it’s not enough, we’ll go home.”Throughout the entire tournament so far, it’s been enough and Syracuse still hasn’t gone home.Outside the locker room, Peterson hugged assistant coach Vonn Read and thanked him for helping the team. “You deserve this, too,” Peterson said. “You did everything.”Then Peterson turned to her coaches’ children: “We’re going to the Final Four,” she blurted out while dancing with them.“You dream of doing this,” Sykes said. “I don’t think anybody comes into college saying, ‘Oh I just want to play ball.’ No. You dream, you play basketball to be in these moments. You dream of going to the Final Four.”Except now, Sykes doesn’t have to fall asleep to see Syracuse there. Comments Published on March 27, 2016 at 5:51 pm Contact Paul: | @pschwedslast_img

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