UConn and Syracuse square off in Big East quarterfinalsMar 8, 2012 - 3:43 PM New York, NY (Sports Network) - The Connecticut Huskies will continue to defend their title as they face the top-seeded Syracuse Orange in the quarterfinal round of the 2012 Big East Conference Tournament at Madison Square Garden.
The winner of this matchup will face the victor of the Georgetown/Cincinnati bout in the semifinals on Friday.
The Orange extended their all-time series lead versus UConn to 53-36 this season as they completed the season sweep. The Huskies were much more competitive in the second encounter, as they only lost by two points in the 71-69 affair in Storrs. UConn had a last-second shot rejected in the contest, which prevented it from handing Syracuse its second loss, but it gave them the knowledge that they can compete with the Big East's top team. The rivalry between these two has produced thrilling battles, especially in the Big East Tournament where three of the last four encounters have gone to overtime.
The Huskies (20-12) will be playing their third game in three days in this one. To make matters worse, UConn went into overtime on Wednesday in their 71-67 victory over West Virginia. Coach Jim Calhoun's squad appears to be focused on running the table in the Big East Conference Tournament for a second year in a row, as it is playing its best basketball of the season. The Huskies are one of the few teams in the nation that have the size and athleticism to match up with Syracuse. UConn's defense is one of the best in the Big East, as it ranks second in the league with an opponent's 38.3 percent shooting average.
Syracuse (30-1) will test the Huskies' strong defense, as the Orange have produced an impressive 75.3 ppg this season. This Syracuse squad may be the best Jim Boeheim has ever coached. Considering Boeheim's ownership of one of the most impressive resumes in NCAA history, it speaks volumes to this team. The Orange finished undefeated at home for the second time in school history, the first team to do so was the 2003-04 Carmelo Anthony-led national champions. Syracuse's only loss of the season (at Notre Dame) came without its starting center and defensive anchor Fab Melo.
Syracuse will need a strong performance out of Melo in this one as the Huskies are going to be a tough team to beat inside due to their intimidating front line. Alex Oriakhi, Andre Drummond and Roscoe Smith are all capable of scoring inside and battling for loose balls. The Huskies' backcourt led the way on Wednesday, as Shabazz Napier was sensational in netting 26 points, dishing out six assists and notched three steals to lead the team. Jeremy Lamb had another strong performance as he finished with 22 points, and Ryan Boatright added 10 points off the bench. With a variety of weapons, SU will have to be prepared for everything.
Kris Joseph and Dion Waiters are atop Syracuse's balanced attack. Joseph's strong forward play hurt the Huskies in the first encounter, as he finished with 21 points and seven rebounds to push the Orange past UConn on Feb. 25. The senior forward leads the team in scoring, while Waiters is second on the team with 11.9 ppg. Melo's 5.8 rpg leads the team. Scoop Jardine has been the motor for the Orange this season. The senior point guard handles the ball more than anyone for Boeheim. His heady decision making has been vital to the team's success.
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