HARTFORD, Conn. — UConn entered the season with nothing to play for. The Huskies took on the role as spoilers, which was clear in a season-opening win against No. 14 Michigan State. Months later, UConn has continued to fight in a season where so much has gone wrong.
The prime example of UConn’s resiliency occurred on Wednesday night in UConn’s 66-58 upset win over No. 6 Syracuse at home.
“Once again, this group fought all obstacles and made it through with a fantastic win,” said UConn coach Kevin Ollie.
UConn can’t play in the postseason. Their Hall of Fame coach, Jim Calhoun retired in September. In the middle of the season, the Catholic 7 essentially announced the end of the Big East. However, UConn played Wednesday night like its Super Bowl, taking down a long-time rival in the final meeting as Big East opponents.
The Huskies trailed by two with over three minutes to go. Shabazz Napier connected on a three to give UConn the lead. The Huskies defense limited the Orange to 1-of-5 down the stretch, while UConn shot 3-of-5, including a buzzer beater by Ryan Boatright to give UConn a 29-24 lead entering the break.
In the second half, Syracuse tied the game and eventually took the lead with under 12 minutes to go, 40-39 on a James Southerland 3-pointer. It looked like Cuse was ready to roll at that point, however UConn countered with the first of many punches. Three-pointers from Niels Giffey and Omar Calhoun on back-to-back possessions gave UConn a 42-40 lead. Boatright had a breakaway dunk to give a 47-42 lead.
But the biggest blows were back-to-back threes from Calhoun, on consecutive possessions, that gave UConn a 55-46 lead.
UConn shot 6-of-8 from behind the arc in the second half — 8-of-14 for the game — in one of the more impressive shooting displays against Jim Boeheim’s 2-3 zone.
While Southerland’s three gave Syracuse its final lead with 11:47 to go, he was the only one connecting from deep. He hit all four threes, with the rest of Orange shooting 0-for-14.
Kevin Ollie and Co. are playing for the name on the front of the jersey. Playing for the university and the state of Connecticut. The shorthanded Huskies are now 3-2 against ranked opponents, including a win against No. 17 Notre Dame in South Bend.
“You can’t measure what we’ve been through,” said Ollie.
UConn has seven more games, and are currently one game out of first place in the Big East standings. The season ends the season Mar. 9 against Providence, wrapping up a hard-fought, admirable season.
“We have a lot of pride,” said Boatright. “Me and Shabazz are great leaders. We have a great chief in coach Ollie. We bring it everyday.”