No. 1 Connecticut Too Much For No. 23 Syracuse
Feb. 11, 2009
STORRS, Conn. (AP) - Jim Calhoun and Jim Boeheim have both coached for more than three decades and the battles between their teams have created one of college basketball's top rivalries.
The two were in total agreement after Calhoun's top-ranked Connecticut Huskies won their 12th straight game, 63-49 over Boeheim's 23rd-ranked Syracuse Orange on Wednesday night: Hasheem Thabeet is one of the best defensive big men to play in the Big East.
The 7-foot-3 Thabeet had eight points, 16 rebounds and seven blocks and affected even more shots as the Huskies sent the Orange to their fifth loss in six games.
"We're not the best offensive team in the league but we're a pretty good defensive team with Hasheem in the middle," Calhoun said. "He affected 20 penetrations in the lane. Don't get caught up in stats with him, even as good as they are, because he is one of the most amazing forces in basketball in America."
Boeheim called Thabeet a "tremendous defensive player."
"I've said it before and I still believe he's the best we've had in this league. We're an inside team and takes that away from you."
The Orange came in averaging 80 points per game, second-best in the league.
"Holding them to 49, that was the most impressive thing to me," said A.J. Price, who had 17 points for the Huskies (23-1, 11-1 Big East), who have won three games since assuming the No. 1 spot in The Associated Press' poll last week.
They overcame a sloppy first half by cutting down the turnovers and hitting 3-pointers, pulling away with a 12-0 run that gave Connecticut a 56-40 lead midway through the second half.
The Huskies had to play almost the entire game without second-leading scorer Jerome Dyson who injured his knee just over 4 minutes in and didn't return.
Dyson banged knees with a Syracuse player as he fought through a screen with 15:44 to play in the first half and remained on the court for several minutes before being helped to the locker room by two teammates. Dyson, who averages 13.7 points, never returned to the game. School officials said he would be taken for an MRI and X-rays on Thursday but that there was no structural damage, just a severely bruised right knee.
Jonny Flynn had 16 points for Syracuse (18-7, 6-6), which was ranked as high as No. 8 before the skid that may now see the Orange drop out of the national rankings.
"We had some really good opportunities early and didn't take advantage of them," Boeheim said. "That first half we played as good as we are capable of defensively but we just couldn't do anything offensively and he had a lot to do with that."
Connecticut managed to take a 30-27 halftime lead despite committing 14 turnovers - two more than its season average for a game - and going 2-for-8 from 3-point range.
The Huskies had six turnovers in the second half and they hit three of their first attempts from 3-point range, the last of those by Craig Austrie during the big run.
"They did a terrific job in the first half matching up with us with their zone," Calhoun said. "In the second half we made some adjustments and that included getting the ball in the post to Hasheem and he was able to make some passes that resulted in 3s."
Thabeet said it was just that he "found a couple of guys for 3s that got us going."
"Coach Calhoun has told me from Day One that I could be a good player if I worked hard and that's what I have done," he said. "That and eliminate them coming inside."
Syracuse got within 57-50 on a 3 by Andy Rautins with 5:34 left, but Price answered with a 3 25 seconds later and the lead was never below 10 the rest of the way.
Connecticut, which came in second in the nation in blocks at 7.26 per game, finished with 11. The Huskies have led the country in blocks the last seven seasons.
Connecticut has a 39-7 record as a No. 1 team.
The win give Calhoun 797 wins, second among active coaches and eight in front of Boeheim.