No. 3 UConn 64, No. 22 Syracuse 51

Get ready for UConn-Notre Dame, Part III.

The teams who played a triple-overtime thriller a week ago will

meet for the Big East title Tuesday night. It’s a fitting way for

the conference to end its current format with the teams splitting

up next year.

Breanna Stewart and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis each scored 14 points

and No. 3 Connecticut beat 22nd-ranked Syracuse 64-51 on Monday

night in the semifinals to set up the title matchup.

”Seems like it’s been us and Notre Dame for a long time,”

UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. ”We’re the best teams in the

league and it’s fitting that the two best teams in the league

should play.”

The Huskies have dominated the Irish in the title game, winning

all six of the meetings between the schools, including the last

two. Yet the Irish have had the Huskies’ number over the last two

seasons outside of that game.

For UConn to extend its streak of 19 straight seasons with

either a regular season or Big East tournament championship, the

Huskies will have to figure out a way to solve the Irish. Notre

Dame has won six of the past seven meetings since losing to the

Huskies in the 2011 Big East title game.

”I’m going to coach the same way I coached the last two times

we played them,” Auriemma said. ”What I think and feel it doesn’t

matter one iota. What’s most important is how our players feel and

how we play tomorrow and how we play the whole game.”

Against Syracuse, the Huskies (29-3) led by 15 at the half, but

uncharacteristically couldn’t pull away.

Kayla Alexander scored 14 to lead the Orange (24-7).

UConn led 24-18 midway through the first half before

Mosqueda-Lewis started a 15-6 run with a 3-pointer. Her second 3 of

the burst made it 32-22. Then, Stewart took over by scoring six of

the next eight points. Her jumper in the lane made it 39-24 with

2:57 left in the half.

Brittney Sykes’ layup 45 seconds earlier was the last basket the

Orange would get for nearly 9 1/2 minutes spanning the halves.

Surprisingly, Connecticut couldn’t really take advantage, only

scoring seven points over that span. The Huskies kept passing up

shots and turning the ball over at an alarming rate. It got so bad

that at one point coach Geno Auriemma yelled at his team to ”just

shoot the ball.”

”I thought we did a really good job in the first half of being

aggressive,” Mosqueda-Lewis said. ”I think we just kind of lost

our flow somewhere. Syracuse just seemed to speed us up. We got out

of our own rhythm. We didn’t have a lot of composure.”

The turnovers allowed the Orange to hang around despite the

offensive drought.

Trailing 46-27, Syracuse rallied. Carmen Tyson-Thomas hit two

3-pointers sandwiched around Elashier Hall’s basket. Brianna

Butler’s layup capped a 13-3 run and brought the Orange within

nine. That’s as close as they could get thanks in part because of

the strong play by Stewart.

”When the lead gets to 15 on a floor like this it could easily

go to 30, 40, 50,” Syracuse coach Quentin Hillsman said. ”We

found a way to battle back through a couple of runs to make the

game manageable. We had a chance to get it to seven or eight and

didn’t make some plays.”

The highly touted freshman, who grew up in Syracuse, has

struggled for most of the season showing brief flashes of the

talent that earned her high school player of the year honors last

season. In Sunday’s win over DePaul, she had 21 points. A night

later, she kept it going. The Huskies will need another strong

effort from her against Notre Dame.

Stewart has averaged just 7.5 points against the Irish this

season and made just six of her 24 shots.

Syracuse made it to the semifinals for the first time since

2002. Alexander, who matched her career high with 34 points in the

second round, became the first Syracuse player to reach 2,000

points when she hit a free throw with 1:40 left. She finished the

game with 2,001.

”When I first got here my freshman year, my goal was to get

playing time and contribute,” Alexander said. ”The fact that I

got 2000, that’s mind-blowing. I’m still trying to wrap my head

around that.”

The Orange were playing in their last Big East tournament as

they are headed to the ACC next season. They continued their

struggles against UConn. Syracuse, which was off to its best mark

after 30 games, hasn’t beaten the Huskies since 1996.

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