Villanova-Syracuse Preview

Syracuse’s winning streak was long, it was exciting, and it was

impressive. It’s also over.

That was the theme Thursday at practice, as the No. 3 Orange

(18-1, 5-1 Big East) continued preparations for No. 7 Villanova

(16-2, 4-1) on Saturday. With an 18-game run now in the past, it

was time to focus on the Wildcats. Period.

”We just lost. Guys are hungry,” senior forward Rick Jackson

said. ”We’re going to be fired up. The crowd is going to be crazy,

regardless, and the crowd’s on our side.”

Ah, yes, the crowd. A year ago, the Orange made a marketing push

to break the Carrier Dome record for largest attendance, and an

orange-clad throng of 34,616 turned out to spur Syracuse to a win

over the Wildcats.

It was an NCAA record for on-campus attendance at a college

basketball game. Seating was capped at that figure, making it the

first basketball sellout in Dome history. When the Wildcats visit

this time, they might be staring at another record crowd. The

university added seats and ticket sales were approaching 33,000 as

students staked out spots outside the gate Wednesday.

”’Nova, that’s always like a rivalry game, sort of like

Syracuse and Georgetown,” said Jackson, who has 12 double-doubles

this season. ”Over the years, it’s been a big game, big

environment. We just want to come out, get this win and kind of

redeem ourselves from the last loss, come out and play with a chip

on our shoulder.”

Syracuse’s streak ended Monday night with a 74-66 loss at No. 5

Pittsburgh in the raucous Petersen Events Center. The Orange played

without leading scorer Kris Joseph, who suffered a head injury last

Saturday against Cincinnati and did not travel with the team.

”It’s tough. You can’t dwell on it too much in the Big East.

It’s such a grind, this conference,” said former Syracuse star

Gerry McNamara, a graduate assistant this season. ”We took a lot

of positives from that game, if anything. We proved that we can

play from behind on the road against a tough opponent, and we did

it without one of our best players. If anything, there’s more

positives to take from that game than negatives.”

Joseph is recovering nicely and his mid-range jumper looked

sharp as he shot Thursday before taking part in his first practice

since his injury. Though his status is day-to-day, Joseph is

hopeful he will be able to play.

To make up for the loss of the 6-foot-7 Joseph, who averaged

19.5 points in the Orange’s first four Big East games, coach Jim

Boeheim gave sophomore James Southerland his first college start

and freshman C.J. Fair extended playing time vs. Pitt. Southerland

finished with eight points, four assists and no turnovers. Fair had

a season-high 16 points and nine rebounds.

”I didn’t expect to play 36 minutes,” Fair said. ”I was

prepared for it. Just playing that amount of minutes and

contributing the way I did gave me good confidence – and as far as

my teammates having confidence in me.”

Pitt scored 19 unanswered points to start the game as Nasir

Robinson repeatedly broke free in the heart of the Syracuse zone,

scoring the game’s first nine. The Orange missed their first 10

shots before Scoop Jardine hit a 3 at 11:59 to start a 17-0

comeback. Syracuse trailed by only four at halftime.

It should have been a one-point game at the break. Despite

having a foul to give in the final minute, the Orange didn’t use

it, then left Ashton Gibbs wide open, and Pitt’s most dangerous

outside threat hit a 3-pointer with 4 seconds left.

”Little things killed us,” said Jackson, a Philadelphia

native. ”We took some tough shots, we had some defensive

breakdowns, all key things that you can’t do when you’re away on

the road in a hostile environment and playing a top-five


Villanova is coming off a road loss, too. The Wildcats had an

11-game winning streak snapped Monday at No. 8 Connecticut. Corey

Fisher had a career-high 28 points, but Corey Stokes, their leading

scorer, was 0 for 6 from the field and finished with three points.

The 59 points were a season low and marked the first time in 51

games that Villanova failed to reach 60.

The Wildcats played that game without guard Dominic Cheek, who

has a sprained left knee. An MRI exam on Monday revealed no

additional damage. Cheek is questionable for Saturday.