Struggling Huskies stay positive as they visit No. 2 Orange
Syracuse, N.Y. - Tonight's game has nightmare potential for UConn.
Rarely has UConn entered a Big East Conference game against fierce rival Syracuse facing such a daunting challenge.
Second-ranked Syracuse (23-1, 10-1) shares first place with Villanova. UConn (14-9, 4-6) is mired in 11th.
The Orange are legitimate national championship contenders. The Huskies are barely clinging to their NCAA tournament hopes.
The Orange are riding a 10-game winning streak. The Huskies are 4-6 in their last 10 games, and are 0-5 in true road games.
Yet UConn remains optimistic about tonight's game, which tips at 7 p.m. in the Carrier Dome.
"We have a lot of confidence," point guard Kemba Walker said. "We know we can win this game. We know it's possible. Confidence is not even a factor right now. We're going to go out there and just play our hardest and hopefully get the victory."
The Huskies have reached a critical stage of the season with eight regular-season games left. Three of their next four games are on the road.
Associate head coach George Blaney says UConn still controls its fate but can't afford too many more losses. One big win tonight might jump-start UConn to a strong finish.
"I still have the feeling that we're so very close to being good," Blaney said. "That's what's been so confounding about the team all year is they're so capable of playing such great, great minutes.
"I keep going back to the Louisville game - 13-for-19 at the start of the second half. … It's there but for some reason it hasn't come out in a full game enough times."
UConn can forget about pulling off any upset if it doesn't play a full game tonight. Plain and simple, this is a bad matchup for the Huskies.
First off, UConn - which has struggled in the halfcourt - has to solve one of the better Syracuse 2-3 zones in recent years. The Huskies lack shooters to consistently score from the perimter, ranking last in the conference in 3-pointers made per game (3.7).
The key to busting the zone is ball movement and changing sides of the floor with crisp passing. But Blaney said the problem is so many teams, including UConn, get caught "window washing" - or passing the ball between players with no penetration or creating.
"It's a great zone because (coach Jim Boeheim) has played it so long and they believe in it," Blaney said. "But it's a better zone because of the talent. They're very big and they're very long and they read passes very well and they try to keep you on the perimeter so you get frustrated and then take a late three."
The other major issue comes on the defensive end, trying to contain a high-powered offensive machine that can turn a close game into a rout in a flash. Trailing by six with 12 minutes left Sunday, Syracuse outscored Cincinnati, 28-5, to close the game and earn a lopsided win.
Transfer Wes Johnson is a candidate for Big East player of the year, Andy Rautins is one of the top perimeter weapons around, Arinze Onuaku is a powerful inside presence, and reserves Scoop Jardine and Kris Joseph are threats.
And the Orange convert at a high rate, leading the nation in field goal percentage (53.1).
"You've got a problem with them offensively all the time," Blaney said. "They run. They'll shoot the ball quick in transition. They're very simple offensively but they're so very effective because they space exceptionally well and they pass the ball well."
For the seventh straight game, UConn will be without coach Jim Calhoun, who's still on a medical leave of absence.
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