CORAL GABLES, Fla. (AP) — Usually the shortest man on the court, 5-foot-7 Chris Lykes is an unorthodox, unpredictable player for the Miami Hurricanes. Risky passes, lots of dribbling, ill-advised shots and so-so defense are part of his game.
So are improbable baskets.
“I like him,” coach Jim Larranaga said with a grin. “He’s crazy, but he’s also crazy good.”
Larranaga’s hope is that his dynamic sophomore point guard will drive Syracuse nuts on Thursday, which could happen because Lykes has been giving opponents fits all season.
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He is coming off a 20-point performance in Saturday’s loss to No. 13 North Carolina, which increased his season average to 18.1 points, nearly double his 9.6 average as a freshman. He is averaging 21.6 in Atlantic Coast Conference games.
“He’s a talented player,” said Wake Forest coach Danny Manning, whose team gave up 25 points to Lykes in a loss at Miami. “He’s blessed with an unbelievable burst and change of speed. You can’t mimic what he is in practice with a scout team.”
Lykes often scores by slicing into the lane and throwing up acrobatic shots over much taller opponents. For Larranaga, those head-shaking plays help make up for the other kind.
“You never know what to expect,” Larranaga said. “He might come down and not make a single pass and launch a 30-footer. Then the next time he may come down, drive into the lane, throw an around-the-back pass and throw it into the stands. Then the next time he buries that same shot, and then the around-the-back pass leads to a dunk.
“He is what he is — an aggressive, attacking guard who can shoot and score in a lot of different ways.”
Lykes understands why his coach calls him crazy.
“The way I play, sometimes things happen,” Lykes said. “But I always try to make up for it. Coach L has always believed in me since day one, and I’ve tried to become more efficient. That comes with experience. That’s the progress I’m starting to make.”
The Hurricanes (9-8, 1-4 ACC) have struggled this season because of poor depth, which has prompted Larranaga to rely heavily on Lykes. The sophomore’s assist-turnover ratio of 63-54 underscores that there is room for improvement in how he runs the offense.
But Lykes has become more than just a slasher, improving to 38 percent (33 for 88) on 3-pointers this season, up from 30 percent a year ago. Overall his shooting percentage has risen from 40 to 46.
But it is Lykes’ forays into the paint that always make the video highlights.
“Speed and quickness, my gosh,” North Carolina coach Roy Williams said. “He can shoot from the outside, and he can drive to the basket. Chris is so quick and clever with the ball. He’s hard to keep in front of you.”
Lykes has totaled at least 17 points in each of his past six games. He tied a season high with four 3-pointers against North Carolina and drew enough fouls with his drives to go 14 for 14 from the free-throw line against Wake Forest.
Larranaga wants Lykes to become more than a scorer.
“I hope he gets to this point where he realizes he can have that same impact on the defensive end of the floor,” Larranaga said. “He has that unique talent, but he only shows it once in a while. When you’re really good, you show that all the time.”
North Carolina exposed Lykes’ defensive deficiencies in the decisive closing minutes last week, when players he was guarding made four 3-pointers, including a pair by 6-foot-9 Cameron Johnson.
“At 6-9 they can just shoot right over me,” Lykes said. “But I always feel like there’s something I could have done. Maybe I could have gotten there a half-second earlier to make it uncomfortable for him.”
The Hurricanes haven’t had Lykes press much because he is averaging nearly 34 minutes and they don’t want to drain him further. But Larranaga said Lykes has the potential to make an impact on defense similar to the pesky Muggsy Bogues, who went from the ACC to a 14-year NBA career.
Bogues was only 5-foot-3, but for Lykes, that’s someone to look up to.
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