HARTFORD — The last word was loud. The last word was emphatic. The last word had the devastating effect, elicited that unmistakably sullen silence that makes the last word so satisfying.
And in this storied, intense and always emotional college men's basketball rivalry, the last word belonged to
In a season with no postseason, this was as good a defining statement as UConn, even more shorthanded than before, could make, beating the sixth-ranked team in The Associated Press poll, leading most of the way.
"They can ban us from the postseason," coach
The Huskies (17-6, 7-4 in the Big East) actually still have something tangible in their sights. This win put them in the middle of a wild race for first place in the league. Syracuse (20-4, 8-3), especially once UConn suspended its tallest player,
The Orangemen's zone defense, as expected, forced UConn to take and make three-point shots to win, and they made 8 of 14. Boatright scored 17 points and
"It's great to play on a team where everybody just wants to win," said Shabazz Napier, who had 10 points and seven assists, including an alley-oop pass to Boatright in what is becoming a signature play. "Nobody cares who scores the most points. I certainly believed we were going to win. I think we're a great team – 17-6, that's a great team right there."
By then, the XL Center was as loud as any UConn crowd has been this year, and, at times, doing the wave. "The crowd really pushed us through," Ollie said. "Hopefully, our fans saw our heart and our dedication out there tonight."
UConn's defense was disruptive enough to take Syracuse out of its game.
"UConn has proven they're a good basketball team," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. "They've play hard, they've play together – all year. They made all the big shots in the second half."
The Huskies moved the ball side-to-side against Syracuse's extended zone defense, getting into the middle and then back out to open three-point shooters, or, occasionally, less-than open. But the Huskies shot 45.8 percent from the floor, and that was enough.
"They made 8 of 14 threes," Boeheim said, "and nobody has shot that well against us in a while. We didn't shoot very well."
Former UConn coach Jim Calhoun arrived early to chat with Boeheim, perhaps reminiscing over the classic games these two teams have played. In the Big East, Syracuse finishes with a 39 to 33 edge. But UConn, after losing three times to Syracuse last season, savored this one. As time ran out, Boatright worried the fans might rush the court.
"The big games we face, we call them our championship games," Boatright said, "because we can't go to the postseason."
Giffey, who had nine points and five rebounds in 25 minutes, said, "It was our energy level and our passion. We overcame a bunch of challenges and changed our game a little bit."
And Ollie, who took over for Calhoun in September, adds this jewel to the upset of Michigan State on Nov. 9 and the victory at