Two years ago, Syracuse and UConn played one of the greatest games in NCAA history. The epic six-overtime marathon lasted nearly four hours and carried over into the early hours of the morning. Friday, the Orange will face the Huskies in the Big East tournament once again.
After stumbling into the conference tournament losing four of its last five, UConn has found its stride behind the reemergence of Kemba Walker. The prolific junior guard is averaging 26 points per game in the tournament, and has led the Huskies to three wins in three days – including a deadly stepback jumper that knocked out top-seeded Pitt Thursday.
“I’m one of the more experienced guys on my team and I’ve been through a lot,” Walker said. “I’m going to be the one to take that last shot or make the last play, so that’s what I had to do for my team. Everybody knows that.”
Walker started as a freshman during that 2008-09 battle, but struggled from the floor that night, connecting on only 4-of-18 shot attempts and finishing with eight points. In a loss earlier this season to Syracuse, Walker also struggled as he turned in arguable his worst performance of the year, scoring eight points on 3-of-14 shooting. No doubt, Walker will be looking to shake his struggles against the Orange.
After watching the Huskies run through the first three rounds, SU head coach Jim Boeheim certainly expects a better game from UConn and its star player.
“I don’t think Connecticut played will (in that first game),” Boeheim said. “It was like when we played St. John’s the first time, I don’t think St. John’s played well so I don’t take anything out of the St. John’s game, and I don’t take anything out of the (first) Connecticut game.
“I don’t think they played well, Kemba had probably his worst night of the year, and we know that won’t happen (Friday) night.”
Syracuse, however, is on a streak of its own. After dropping games against Georgetown and at Louisville in early February, the Orange have reeled of six straight wins – including three over ranked opponents. Following the win Thursday, SU also remains the only team to have beaten St. John’s in Madison Square Garden.
“We stayed together, and Rick (Jackson) and Scoop (Jardine) as leaders, they brought the whole team together and it was mostly about efforts,” sophomore Brandon Triche said. “The time we were losing, we were having loose rebounds and loose balls and I think we were trying to make great offensive plays instead of concentrating on defense and now that we’re moving, we’re hard to beat.”
Similar to the Huskies, the Orange also have one remaining starter from that historic game that will also be taking the court tonight. Jackson, now a senior, played 29 minutes and scored 10 points before fouling out. Junior Kris Joseph also saw 14 minutes of action and pulled down four rebounds, though he did not score in that game.
Both Jackson and Joseph will be key if Syracuse hopes to advance to the championship game Saturday. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m., and the game will be nationally televised on ESPN.
“(Pittsburgh) is a tremendous team, and for Connecticut to beat them says a lot about how they’re playing,” Boeheim said.
No. 2 seed Notre Dame vs No. 3 seed Louisville, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN
Both the Fighting Irish and the Cardinals cruised into their semifinal matchup with blowout victories Thursday. Ben Hansbrough scored a game-high 23 points to lead Notre Dame past Cincinnati, 89-51. The Fighting Irish outscored the Bearcats by 28 in the second half to secure the victory.
Louisville was led by guard Mike Marra who scored a game-high 22 points (6-of-10 from 3-point range) off the bench, and the Cardinals had four players reach double figures as they outscored the Golden Eagles by 20 in the second half to blow open a close game.
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