Thirty-three years of Big East history will end tonight at the XL Center with the final regular season game between the Huskies (16-6, 6-4 Big East) and No. 9 Syracuse (20-3, 8-2), which will join the Atlantic Coast Conference next season. The game is part of ESPN’s “Rivalry Week” and will air on ESPN and the UConn IMG Sports Network at 7 p.m.
The two teams have met 69 times over the years –14 times in the Big East Championships– including the memorable 2009 game won by Syracuse in six overtime periods.
“I grew up watching Syracuse and Connecticut playing. The reason I came to Connecticut was because Stevie Thompson was from my high school and he chose Syracuse,” said head coach Kevin Ollie ’95 (CLAS) following Tuesday’s practice session. “You hate to see it come to an end but it’s part of life and you’ve got to move on.”
Ollie and Thompson attended Crenshaw High School in Los Angeles. Thompson is now head basketball coach at California State University in Los Angeles.
Hall of Fame coach Jim Boeheim has four players averaging in double figures, including forward C.J. Fair, who is posting 14 points per game and also leading the team in rebounds, with 7 per game. Senior guard Brian Triche is the leading scorer with 14.6 points per game, followed by James Southerland (13.6) and Michael Carter-Williams (12.4).
The Syracuse backcourt of Triche and Carter-Williams will square off against UConn’s high scoring guards, Shabazz Napier ’14 (CLAS), named to the Big East Honor Roll this week, and Ryan Boatright ’15 (CLAS).
The Huskies will face Syracuse’s effective zone defense, which causes problems for so many of its opponents. Ollie said that his squad must keep the ball moving around the court until a good shot is possible.
“Just moving the basketball getting it from side to side, not sticking the ball in one guy’s hands,” he said. “We’ve got to make shots. Shabazz and Ryan have to be aggressive get in the gaps and we’ve got to get whoever is at the four [forward position] catching it at the elbow or mid-lane, where the free throw line is, being ready to make plays.”
With just eight games remaining in the season due to the postseason ban, the Huskies are two games behind in the loss column in their quest to try and win the regular season title.
“The leader of the Big East has two losses and one of the leaders is coming into our place,” Ollie said. “It’s going to be a great game for us to show off what we are all about, the adversities we hit and that we pushed through them. It’s a great opportunity for us on national television once again to show how much we love this University. This team has been great all during the season. They’ve been playing for the love of basketball. It’s purely for the love of basketball and for love of UConn and for the pride of this University. I’m proud of this team. They’ve put themselves in a good position.”
The indefinite suspension of center Enosch Wolf ’14 (CLAS) on Monday following an incident on campus will mean that Tyler Olander ’14 (CLAS) will be the focus of attention in the frontcourt.
“Tyler’s giving it to us but we need it to be at another level,” Ollie said. “We want him to get rebounds. We want him to get double-doubles. I believe he can do it. I think he believes he can do it. He’s got to be involved, make himself involved. In the Seton Hall game [on Sunday] he made some beautiful passes in the zone. We’re going to need him to step up and have some big games for us coming down the stretch with eight games left.”
Senior goalkeeper Matt Grogan ’13 (CLAS) stopped 24 shots and nine Huskies scored as Grogan earned his first career shutout on Monday as UConn defeated Bentley 9-0 at Freitas Ice Forum.
The second consecutive win against Bentley improved the Huskies to a 13-12-3 over record, with a 10-9-2 mark in the Atlantic Hockey Association. With the weekend sweep, UConn moved into a three-way tie for fourth in the AHA standings with Canisius (11-14-5, 10-9-2) and this weekend’s opponent Holy Cross (14-10-2, 10-7-2). The top four teams in the standings receive a bye in the first round of the AHA playoffs and will host the second round.
Six Huskies reached double figures as the No. 3 women’s basketball team (23-1, 10-1 Big East) ran by Providence (7-17, 2-9) 105-49 on Tuesday in Rhode Island.
In her 100th consecutive start senior Kelly Faris ’13 (CLAS) filled the box score with 16 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists. Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis ’15 (CLAS) led all scorers with 17 points.
Freshman Breanna Stewart ’16 (CLAS) posted a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds while Bria Hartley ’14 (CLAS) had 12 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists. Freshman guard Moriah Jefferson ’16 (CLAS) scored a season-high 13 points and Stefanie Dolson ’14 (CLAS) scored 14 points.
The Huskies travel to Rutgers (14-10, 5-6) on Saturday for a game that begins at 4 p.m. on SNY and the UConn IMG Sports Network.