Kadiatou Sissoko’s spark off bench in Syracuse’s win provides look at her potential impact

first_imgJocelyn Willoughby was torching the Syracuse defense. The Orange had allowed the Virginia guard to score 13 quick points and found themselves down 25-22 early in the second quarter. After a free throw by the guard, Kadiatou Sissoko checked in for Miranda Drummond, who had fouled Willoughby.On the next possession, Sissoko spotted up in the left corner, caught a pass from Tiana Mangakahia, and for the first time in her Syracuse career, drained a 3-pointer. The ensuing trip down the court, Emily Engstler found Sissoko, who finished a floater in the paint.Then, the France native showed off her post moves. She caught a pass behind the arc, dribbled toward the paint and threw a pump fake that brought her defender off their feet. Sissoko stepped through and scored her sixth and seventh straight points. What was previously a three-point deficit turned into a one-point Syracuse lead, jumpstarted by its freshman forward.Sissoko added a layup in the fourth quarter to tie her career-high of nine points. After injuring her knee against Princeton on Nov. 23 and having surgery on her right meniscus, Sissoko missed two months of game action. She returned against Pittsburgh on Jan. 17, but played just five minutes. In her first four games after coming back from the surgery, she shot just 1-of-10 from the field. But Thursday’s game against Virginia was different. Despite only playing 12 minutes, she showed flashes of what Syracuse (17-4, 6-2 Atlantic Coast) expected she’d bring to the team entering the season.“We understand what kind of player she is,” SU head coach Quentin Hillsman said, “so for us we’re not shocked. We just want her to start to put it together in the games, and I think tonight was a really good start to that.”AdvertisementThis is placeholder textSissoko, the No. 11 recruit in espnW’s class of 2018 rankings, started the season strong. In SU’s 85-49 season-opening win over North Dakota, she scored nine points in 17 minutes and added two steals and a block off the bench. Five games later, against Kansas State, Sissoko poured in eight points and three rebounds in 20 minutes.In the next game, after playing one minute and scoring three points, she was injured. Talking about the injury the following week, Hillsman said that the team would miss Sissoko’s length, size, and athleticism. Marie-Paule Foppossi saw more playing time in her place, but she couldn’t replicate Sissoko’s skill on the court.Sissoko’s length and athleticism at 6-foot-2 allows Hillsman to play her at the top of his zone full court press, but without a player to replicate her attributes, he was forced to play the much-smaller Gabrielle Cooper in her position.“I have long arms, so it’s easier for me to take the ball,” Sissoko said about her role in the press earlier this season. “I’m versatile. I want to improve in my shots too.”Her shooting was praised by the SU coaching staff entering the season, and they thought her ability to play inside and out would be key for the Orange. But up until Thursday, Sissoko had come up empty on all seven of her tries from outside.Her triple against the Cavaliers broke her cold-streak though. Once the 3-pointer fell, she appeared more engaged on both sides of the ball. From her position on the wing in SU’s 2-3 zone, Sissoko was flying from the baseline to the top of the key. Her length, which the Orange sorely missed, forced Virginia’s shooters to take contested shots.On offense, her seven-straight points in the middle of the second quarter showed her newfound confidence and, when she’s aggressive, her natural ability to score.“(When Sissoko is confident) It does a lot for the team,” Mangakahia said. “When Kadi comes in, she attacks the rim, she gets offensive rebounds, she runs the floor, she does a lot of great things for this team.”Two weeks ago, Sissoko said that she was “85 percent” but didn’t have all the abilities she did at the start of the season. Thursday after the win, she confirmed that she was finally feeling completely healthy.With the win against the Cavaliers, Syracuse finishes the first half of its conference slate at 6-2. Next week, the Orange begin the second half away at No. 3 Louisville, which just took down No. 2 Connecticut on the Cardinals’ home floor.Hillsman said that the team had been trying to get Sissoko healthy for later in SU’s conference schedule, for teams like Louisville. For the first time in over two months, she is.“It’s a good game,” Sissoko said. “It’s a good start. I will push myself, and I hope it’s going to be the start of something good.” Comments Published on January 31, 2019 at 10:40 pm Contact Eric: [email protected] | @esblack34 Facebook Twitter Google+last_img read more