Notebook: UConn gives a proper Big East send-off to Syracuse
One of college basketball's most storied rivalries saw perhaps its final chapter unfold in front of an electric XL Center crowd on Wednesday night as UConn defeated Syracuse, 66-58. The emotional victory pulls the Huskies within one game of first place in the Big East regular season standings.
Syracuse, which entered the evening ranked No. 6 in the country, will be leaving the Big East to join the ACC after this season, and therefore the two teams will only meet in the future in a non-conference or postseason setting. This knowledge only served to heighten the dramatics of last night's back and forth contest.
Freshman Omar Calhoun finished with 15 points, including three crucial three-pointers in the second half.
UConn head coach Kevin Ollie, who was participating in his first Syracuse game as head coach, expressed his regret at the series coming to an end, at least temporarily.
"It was a great game by our guys, but it is kind of hard for the rivalry to be over with," said Ollie. "I'm hoping that we will continue to play again somewhere, somehow. It is pretty special and it is what a real rivalry is all about."
Despite committing 18 turnovers throughout the night, largely as a result of Jim Boeheim's notoriously stingy 2-3 zone defense, UConn was able to maintain a lead throughout the majority of the evening due to an impressive effort defensively and on the glass. The Huskies held the Orange to 35.4 percent field goal shooting, including 4-23 from three, and were able to outrebound the Orange 38 to 36.
The advantage in rebounding is even more impressive when one takes into consideration that the Huskies were without 7'1" center Enosch Wolf, who has been suspended from the team indefinitely following an on-campus arrest on Monday morning. The Huskies benefited from contributions from the lineup, including freshman Philip Nolan. The still-developing center contributed 14 quality minutes and grabbed five rebounds.
"I work hard in practice no matter what happens, but I felt pretty sure that my chance was going to come, and it came tonight," said Nolan.
With the win, UConn only serves to complicate the logjam at the top of the conference standings. Syracuse, Marquette and Georgetown are leading the way at 8-3, closely followed by Notre Dame and Pittsburgh (8-4). Louisville and UConn, both with a record of 7-4, are remarkably only a game out of the lead.
As a result of the NCAA sanctions that have banned this year's squad from participation in postseason play, the opportunity to win the regular season title is being viewed as a platform to make a statement to the rest of the country.
"It would mean everything," said Ryan Boatright, who led the team with 17 points. "We knew that [the NCAA] would try to take everything from us and bury us. For us to come out and play with pride and play for UConn, the best thing we can do to show them is to win the regular season title."
The Huskies will continue their pursuit of the Big East regular season title when they host Villanova at noon on Saturday at the XL Center.
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