Syracuse, UConn ready for Big East tourney rematch
Jim Boeheim certainly hasn’t forgotten that magical game at
Madison Square Garden two years ago. Neither have Kris Joseph, Rick
Jackson and the rest of the Syracuse players who were on the floor
How could they? How could anybody?
In one of the most exhilarating and exhausting college
basketball games ever played, the Orange outlasted Connecticut in
six overtimes to win a Big East quarterfinal for the ages. The
second-longest Division I game ever played began Thursday night and
bled right into Friday, as the teams combined to take 211 shots and
foul eight guys out before anything was decided.
The scoreboard read 127-117, and it sticks in the mind of
anybody there that night.
On Friday night, the two teams will try to do it again.
The 11th-ranked Orange will meet the No. 21 Huskies in the
semifinals this time, their first matchup in the Big East
tournament since that drama played out.
”We remember the six-overtime game. Absolutely,” Joseph said.
”It’s going to be good.”
The teams are quite different than the two that stood toe-to-toe
for 3 hours, 46 minutes that night. The Orange’s Jonny Flynn and
Paul Harris, who had such an important role in their victory, are
long gone, replaced by kids like Brandon Triche who remember it
just the same.
”I stayed up late to watch it,” said Triche, then a senior at
Jamesville-DeWitt High School in upstate New York. ”I was late for
school the next morning.”
UConn star Kemba Walker, who has become a national player of the
year candidate, was just a freshman in his first Big East
tournament that night. He played 53 minutes and scored only eight
points, but two of them tied the score with 1.1 seconds left in
Walker had two shots to end the game, too. His 3-point attempt
at the buzzer of the first overtime was short, and his heave from
just inside the midcourt line at the end of the second extra
session bounced off the back of the rim.
He’s gotten a little bit better at those game-winning shots
Walker drained a step-back jumper just before the buzzer
Thursday, lifting the Huskies to a 76-74 win over Pittsburgh in the
most dramatic game of this year’s Big East tournament.
The junior guard has been on a tear ever since arriving in New
York City. He finished with 24 points against the Panthers, on the
heels of a 26-point performance in a first-round win over DePaul
and a 28-point effort against Georgetown in the second round.
He played nearly every minute in all three games, but sure
doesn’t seem to mind.
”Well, you know, like I said before, I’m one of the more
experienced guys on my team and I’ve been through a lot,” Walker
said. ”I’m that guy on this team.”
Boeheim also doesn’t seem to think playing four games in four
days will do much to slow down Walker, whose winning jumper against
Pitt came after a nifty crossover dribble and paralyzing shoulder
roll that got him open just inside the 3-point arc.
”They’re a team that can do that, I really think they can,”
Boeheim said of running through the tournament without any byes.
”Kemba Walker can play eight nights in a row, and they play a lot
of guys, and I don’t see that being a factor.”
Seven of the eight teams left in the Big East tournament
Thursday were ranked in the Top 25, and all of them had already
reached 20 wins.
Along with No. 21 UConn’s win over third-ranked Pittsburgh and
No. 11 Syracuse’s 79-73 victory over 17th-ranked St. John’s, No. 4
Notre Dame rolled to an 89-51 victory over No. 25 Cincinnati in the
most lopsided quarterfinal in tournament history.
The Fighting Irish will face No. 14 Louisville, which ended
Marquette’s run after two wins at Madison Square Garden with an
81-56 victory in the nightcap.
While it won’t have quite the same backdrop as Syracuse-UConn,
there is still plenty at stake for the Fighting Irish and
Cardinals. Notre Dame believes it can earn a No. 1 seed to the NCAA
tournament if it keeps winning, while Louisville has won five of
its last six games.
”I told these guys before the game, I said, ‘Not since 1996 did
I walk into a place and feel as confident as this,”’ Louisville
coach Rick Pitino said. ”The way these guys play, with confidence
and dedication, we know each night we’re going to bring it.”