Will UConn add to its greatest hits list?

UConn will need another strong effort by sophomore point guard Shabazz Napier (13) in order to upset No. 2 Syracuse during tonight's Big East battle at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs.
UConn will need another strong effort by sophomore point guard Shabazz Napier (13) in order to upset No. 2 Syracuse during tonight's Big East battle at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs. Sean D. Elliot/The Day Buy Photo

Storrs - As part of its pregame preparation, UConn will watch Gampel Pavilion's Greatest Hits.

Associate coach George Blaney wants to remind the Huskies about the electricity that flows through the building for a big game.

Tonight would certainly classify as a big game with No. 2 Syracuse visiting and ESPN's College GameDay on hand for the Big East showdown at 9.

"It's going to be rocking and rolling," Blaney said. "The kids know it. We know it. We're going to show them some clips from other games and just what it can be like here. That's part of the game plan."

Right at the top of Blaney's hits list is Jan. 23, 2010, when unranked UConn shocked No. 1 Texas 88-74. The rabid crowd carried the Huskies, according to Blaney.

"It was absolute bedlam," he said. "Gampel brings out the electricity."

Coincidentally, Blaney also was in charge that day with coach Jim Calhoun out on a medical leave. Calhoun will miss his seventh straight game tonight and undergo a surgical procedure on Monday for his lower back condition.

UConn (17-10, 7-8) hopes tonight's atmosphere will be similar to that memorable Texas game. There's a buzz around campus. Students began pitching tents outside the East Entrance late in the day on a rainy Friday afternoon.

"Everybody is just focused and we're just excited for the game," junior Alex Oriakhi said. "It's crazy. I've already seen students out there already in the cold. You know it's a big game when students are camping out there."

The game pits two teams in vastly different positions.

UConn is tied for ninth place in the Big East and likely needs a couple wins to secure an NCAA tournament berth.

Syracuse (28-1, 15-1) already has clinched a tie for the Big East regular-season title, tying UConn for the most in league history (10). The Orange are attempting to become just the third team in Big East to finish the season with just one conference loss, joining the 1995-96 UConn (17-1) team and St. John's (15-1) in 1984-85.

"This possibly could be (coach Jim Boeheim's) best team," Blaney said. "No other Syracuse team has ever been (28-1). If he wins out, he'll be only the third team in the history of the Big East to only lose one game in the conference. ... And he has four guys on his team that could average 20 points a game, so he has answers and depth."

In the first meeting on Feb. 11 at the Carrier Dome, Syracuse's depth was the difference, as it rode a late run to post an 85-67 win. The Orange shot a sizzling 59 percent.

UConn played well and gained confidence from that game, trailing by only two points with six and half minutes remaining before fading. The Huskies also received a boost from a dramatic 73-70 overtime win at Villanova on Monday.

"It gives us confidence," sophomore Jeremy Lamb said of the first Syracuse game. "We feel that we can play with them. We let up a little bit at the end in the last game. So we just know we've got to play the whole game and do whatever we can to try to get a win."

Consistency is the key for the Huskies, who've endured some bumpy stretches within games this season.

They also have to stop Syracuse from going on a deadly run that's been one of its trademarks this season and solve the always challenging 2-3 zone.

But the statistic to watch tonight just might be the 3-pointer. The Huskies have played shoddy perimeter defense this season, allowing opponents to make at least 10 from beyond the arc seven different times, going 2-5 in those situations.

"It's actually been a concern all year," Blaney said. "It's getting there and not putting your hand up to cause a little more distraction. I think that's the primary thing."

Syracuse went 10-for-16 last time. A repeat would likely result in a defeat and a deflated Gampel Pavilion crowd.

g.keefe@theday.com

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