Surprising Huskies thrilled to be in conference's final four
New York - After surviving a grueling stretch of three Big East tournament games in three days, UConn is thrilled to be alive in the Big East tournament.
Tonight's semifinal opponent didn't really matter to the ninth-seeded Huskies.
"It's definitely overwhelming that we came this far," sophomore Alex Oriakhi said following a 76-74 upset of top-seeded Pittsburgh. "Our whole motto is Maui and Manhattan. It's not over. It's just the semis. Might as well take the whole thing if we made it this far.
"If you can't get up for this type of game, you're not a basketball player."
UConn (24-9) won the Maui Invitational in November and now is attempting to reach the conference tournament championship game for the first time since 2005.
A familiar dance partner stands in the way tonight. Fourth-seeded Syracuse has eliminated UConn in the last four conference tournament meetings, including an epic 127-117 six-overtime game in 2009. Game time is 7 p.m. at Madison Square Garden.
Syracuse (26-6) beat No. 5 St. John's, 79-73, in Thursday's quarterfinal. Brandon Triche scored a team-high 22 points to lead five players in double figures.
In the only the regular-season meeting, Syracuse beat UConn, 66-58, on Feb. 2 in Hartford.
"I don't take anything out of the Connecticut game." Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. "I don't think they played well. Kemba had probably his worst night of the year and we know that won't happen (tonight).
"I watched the game today… and it looked like Pittsburgh played great and Connecticut played better. That's a tremendous team and for Connecticut to beat them says a lot about how they're playing."
Walker scored only eight points on 3-for-14 shooting against the Orange. Syracuse's trademark zone baffled the Huskies, who shot 36.2 percent frome the field. Triche had 16 points for the Orange and Rick Jackson added 13 points and 13 rebounds.
"With Syracuse, you've got to make shots," coach Jim Calhoun said. "But we're happy as heck to be here."
UConn will be playing its fourth game in four days. Syracuse, which earned a double bye, will be fresher - at least in theory.
Boeheim isn't buying that his team has any advantage.
"They're a team that can (play a string of consecutive games)," Boeheim said. "I think they really can. Kemba Walker can play eight nights in a row, and they play a lot of guys. I don't see that being a factor at all. I mean, the year we won four games we were playing six guys and it was a factor and we got through it. We didn't have much left."
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