UConn and Syracuse meet for last time
Published: Tuesday, February 12, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, February 12, 2013 22:02
After traveling to New Jersey late on Saturday night amid the frigid blizzard that rocked Connecticut over the weekend, the UConn Huskies men’s basketball team defeated the Seton Hall Pirates in a second-half comeback on Sunday afternoon, 78-67. Wednesday night will present a different and more difficult test, as the Huskies welcome the No. 6 Syracuse Orange to Hartford in a Big East contest at the XL Center at 7 p.m.
The snow wasn’t the only thing that made news at UConn this week. Junior center Enosch Wolf was suspended indefinitely from the team after being arrested in an on-campus domestic dispute early Monday morning.
“We have high expectations of our student-athletes at UConn, and I expect my players to live up to those standards,” Coach Kevin Ollie said in a statement on Monday.
Ollie didn’t comment on Wolf’s arrest after Tuesday’s practice and simply said he’s going to “let the legal process take care of itself.”
Wolf was averaging 13.7 minutes per game to go along with 3.4 points and 3.4 assists before his suspension.
UConn’s frontcourt was already thin before Wolf’s suspension, but junior forward Tyler Olander doesn’t think that losing the German center will make things tougher for the Huskies.
“I’m still playing my same role, we just need guys like Leon [Tolksdorf] and Phil [Nolan] to step up and guys like Niels [Giffey] to continue to play well,” Olander said.
Seldom-used freshman forward Phillip Nolan will most likely see an expanded role as the next available big man off the bench in Wolf’s absence. Nolan has appeared in only six of ten possible Big East games for the Huskies and has yet to score in conference play. However, Ollie believes in his freshman forward.
“There’s no more waiting or seeing. He’s going to learn through experience,” Ollie said. “I have confidence he’s going to come in and give us a spark and play hard with effort and energy.”
UConn (16-6, 6-4) currently stands 7th in the Big East, two games behind Syracuse (20-3, 8-2) who sits atop the conference with a half-game lead over No. 15 Georgetown and No. 18 Marquette. Because the Huskies are ineligible for postseason play this season due to APR penalties, the Big East regular season title has been the Huskies’ ultimate goal all year. Head coach Ollie recognizes that this objective can still be accomplished and is content with his team’s play in his first year at the helm.
“It’s a great opportunity for us on national television to show how much we love this university,” Ollie said. “This team has been great all season and they’re playing for the love of basketball. [There’s] no postseason. I’m very proud of this team and they’ve put themselves in a good position [in the Big East].”
Sophomore guard Ryan Boatright echoed his coach’s sentiments, saying that the title is “still in reach” and this game “is big for us.”
Syracuse is led by sophomore point guard Michael Carter-Williams, who is tops in the Big East in assists per game (8.5) and also third overall in the nation. Carter-Williams is a 6’6” point guard, which could pose problems for the small UConn backcourt. Boatright doesn’t believe that Carter-Williams’ size will be anything new for him and junior guard Shabazz Napier, however.
“We’ve been playing against big guards our whole life, so it’s not the first time,” Boatright said. “They got to lace their shoes up just like everybody else.”
As UConn lost a piece this week, Syracuse gained a player crucial to its success. Senior forward James Southerland returned to the Orange on Sunday after successfully appealing academic issues. Syracuse is 16-1 when its sixth man Southerland plays; during his six-game hiatus, the Orange went 4-2.
“It improves them big time,” Ollie said about Southerland’s return. “He stretches the defense out so much and gives them another long guy…it makes them a deeper team and gives them an added advantage.”
Southerland is averaging 13.6 points and 5.0 rebounds per contest this season while playing 26.2 minutes a game.
Syracuse went perfect against UConn last season, winning all three times the two teams met.
Syracuse is moving from the Big East to the ACC next season, so this will be the last time these two rivals play each other for the foreseeable future. The game is seen as bigger than most to some of the Huskies.
“I’d be a liar to say that it wasn’t [a bigger game],” Boatright said. “The fans are excited, the students are excited, and so it’s important to us.”