Alexis Peterson develops into do-it-all point guard in senior season

first_imgAlexis Peterson needed one more assist for another double-double in her All-American caliber senior season, so she beat her defender with a quick crossover. She spun a pass to Gabby Cooper, who completed the play with a 3-pointer. Peterson reached 10 assists — with almost 14 minutes still to go.Peterson’s greatest achievement this season has been her ability to score nearly at will. Beat opponents off the dribble, pull up for a midrange jumper, step back for a 3-pointer or continue her momentum into the lane. That’s what makes her the conference’s leading scorer at 23.4 points per game during a season in which she’s reached double figures every time out.Then there’s the other part of her game. Peterson has 46 percent of Syracuse’s assists this year (197), more than double anyone else. No. 20 Syracuse’s (18-9, 9-5 Atlantic Coast) loss to then-No. 7 Notre Dame on Sunday proved SU can contend with the best teams, even when its best player doesn’t reach her season scoring average. Peterson’s 19 points matched Brittney Sykes’ for most on SU, but her 14 assists are what drove the Syracuse offense. She already has 24 more assists this season than last year, when she played in 10 more games.“Peterson’s come a long way,” Notre Dame Hall of Fame coach Muffet McGraw said after UND’s 85-80 win Sunday night. “She might be the most improved player in the league. She is somebody that you didn’t have to guard quite as closely in the past.”AdvertisementThis is placeholder textPlaying in an up-tempo offense helps her clutter the box score. The ball seems to always be in her control, whether in transition or in the half court, where she feasts on the pick-and-roll. When Day comes up for a middle-high screen, Peterson weighs her options, scanning her defender for a possible hedge or sag. Sensing where she is on the court allows her to shake up defenders. Whatever they do, she counters.Her 7.3 assists per game ranks first in the ACC this season and fourth in all of college basketball. And while her 3.15 steals per game ranks second in the ACC, she’s thrown balls out of bounds or dribbled into high pressure, so her assist-to-turnover ratio is 42nd in the nation. Syracuse sits at sixth in the ACC standings with two regular-season games remaining and ranks merely 42nd in the country in total assists. Most of them come from its pilot of the offense.“That’s what bumping those assist numbers up,” Syracuse assistant coach Tammi Reiss said. “She’s doing a great job of reading and reacting as a point guard. ‘Now I can take you, I can make a basketball play.’ She’s really, really hard to guard.”The no-look passes come in transition. Some of the plays Peterson constructs at full speed seem to slow the game down, players said, because of how easy she weaves through man-to-man, 2-3 zones and any other combinations that have come her way. Peterson estimates at least half of her assists come on breakaways.In the half court, not only does she draw two or three defenders in the lane, but her very presence also forces defenders to turn around and check where she is. That split-second proves costly.“This year I really focused on where I’m getting teammates the ball to score,” Peterson said. “Making the pass where all they have to do is shoot.”Thursday will mark what’s likely her final game in the Carrier Dome and the culmination of four years at SU. Her sophomore year, she averaged 4.1 assists per game. Last year, she bumped that up to 4.7. This year, she’s at more than seven.“You have to play her to score,” Reiss said. “She’s a scoring point guard. You can’t sag off. You add that with the aggressiveness, as soon as she beats people, it’s her poison. Now she can do whatever she wants.”After SU’s 75-66 loss at Georgia Tech in January, Peterson broke down film with Reiss. That afternoon was Peterson’s least efficient game of the season. She scored 29 points, but it took a 10-of-37 showing from the field and 2-for-16 mark from 3-point range. She dished out only five assists and committed five turnovers.“Coach, never let me look like that again,” Peterson said. “That was awful.”In the next three games, two of which came against Top 25 teams, Peterson exploded. She scored 26, 24 and 22, while handing out a combined 23 assists. She now knows she can salvage a poor shooting night with 10 assists or stuff the stat sheet with a double-double. She has seven of those this season, the sort of showing Syracuse needs from her as it gears up for a postseason run.“That’s what makes her a great point guard,” Reiss said. “Her ability to pass.” Comments Published on February 22, 2017 at 8:15 pm Contact Matthew: [email protected] | @MatthewGut21 Facebook Twitter Google+last_img read more