Syracuse, UConn to Face Off in Big East Semis


NEW YORK – Scoop Jardine
was at home on his couch watching on television the last time Syracuse and UConn tangled in the Big East tournament.

That was the six-overtime, instant classic won by Syracuse on March 12, 2009.

“I was redshirting, so I watched at home,” Jardine said after No. 4 Syracuse eliminated No. 5 St. John’s, 79-73, in the Big East quarterfinals Thursday.

“It was a great game to be a part of. I was happy for my fellow teammates and they did a great job. We had a fun time watching it. It was one of the best games I’ve ever seen in my life.”

Now Jardine could get a chance to be part of something special again when Syracuse (26-6) meets No. 9 UConn (24-9) in Friday night’s Big East semifinals. It will be the first tournament game between the two schools since Syracuse eliminated UConn, 127-117, in the 2009 quarterfinal classic.

The Huskies won their third game in as many days by stunning No. 1 Pitt, 76-74, on Kemba Walker’s fadeaway jumper over 6-foot-11 Gary McGhee as time expired. The former Manhattan Rice star finished with 24 points on 8 of 22 shooting.

“I didn’t see it yet,” Jardine said of Walker’s game-winner. “I want to see it.  Kemba, he’s a terrific player and he’s really hard off the bounce. We’ll have to do a good job playing him.”

Syracuse has won six straight since a late-season swoon in which they lost six of eight.

Ironically, the Orange won at UConn, 66-58, in the middle of the freefall — on Feb. 2.

Jardine said it was during the losing stretch that the team found itself.

“We found our identity as a team,” Jardine said. “We was in a hole and we had to dig ourselves out. One thing Coach [Jim Boeheim] did a great job of was continuing to coach us and keep us level-headed through the whole losing streak and know what we had to do to overcome that. I think that was the best thing that could’ve happened to our season because we found our identity and stayed together through the whole thing.”

Sophomore guard Brandon Triche killed St. John’s with 22 points, was 4 of 10 from beyond the arc and set a new program record by making his 35th consecutive foul shot. He finished the game having made 37 in a row.

Triche said Jardine and senior forward Rick Jackson displayed strong leadership skills during the losing spell.

“Rick and Scoop as leaders, they brought the whole team together and we had a little speech,” Triche said. “It was mostly about effort. I think we were trying to make the great offensive play instead of the great defensive play. Now that we’re moving, we’re being active, we’re very hard to beat.”

Even Fab Melo,  the Preseason Big East Rookie of the Year, came alive with a career-high 12 points to go with four rebounds.

Syracuse got a double-bye into the Big East tournament and has played just once, while the Huskies will be playing their fourth game in four days. Walker has played 40 minutes in all three games so far.

Fatigue could be a factor for UConn.

But Boeheim wasn’t ready to count on it.

“Kemba Walker can play eight nights in a row, I guarantee it. Eight nights in a row, 40 minutes,” Boeheim said. “They play a lot of guys. I don’t see that being a factor [Friday] night at all.”

Syracuse won back-to-back Big East tournaments in 2005 and ’06 playing four games in four days. To win the whole thing, UConn would need to win five games in five days.

And hope there are no multiple-overtime affairs.

“The year we won four games [in 2006], we were playing six guys and it was a factor,” Boeheim said. “I mean, we got through it. We didn’t have much left.”

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