UConn and Syracuse waged another fiercely competitive Big East tournament battle Thursday.
The defending tournament champion Huskies lost, 58-55, in an entertaining quarterfinal game at Madison Square Garden. Sophomore Shabazz Napier had 15 points and freshman Andre Drummond added 14 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks.
They’ll leave New York City feeling good about their run this week.
Coach Jim Calhoun raved about his team during his post-game press conference.
“We came up a little bit short,” Calhoun said. “Once again, I love them and I’m proud of them.”
Syracuse (31-1) beat UConn for the third time this season. Two of the losses came by a combined five points.
"Connecticut is very, very good," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said.
Some quick news, notes and quotes:
-- UConn will learn Sunday if it will receive an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. The Huskies (20-13) should be in.
“These guys are one of the top 30, 35 teams in the country, and they belong,” Calhoun said.
Calhoun has frequently talked about UConn’s strong strength of schedule. His eight-game absence due to a medical leave of absence also will be taken into account by the NCAA tournament selection committee.
-- Sophomore Jeremy Lamb, who averaged 23.5 points in the first two Big East tournament games, struggled, finishing with 10 points on 4-for-9 from the field. He had only two points in the second half and took only two shots after scoring at the 18:47 mark.
-- The Huskies were in great position in the second half, leading by eight with 14 minutes remaining. But they went cold, going without a field goal for over seven minutes during one stretch.
Syracuse’s Dion Waiters (18 points) put the Orange ahead for good, 48-47, with 5:41 remaining.
They had trouble with Syracuse’s active 2-3 zone, shooting 34.4 percent overall. They were out-scored 27-16 in the final 13:40.
-- Syracuse’s depth was the difference. Reserves Waiters and James Southerland (10 points) combined for 28 points, including 18 in the second half.
The Orange wore down the Huskies who admitted that mental fatigue was an issue. Their bench contributed 30 points overall compared to 12 for UConn.
“I felt we were a little tired at the end,” Calhoun said.
-- Calhoun challenged the Huskies to rebound after they lost the battle of the boards by a 47-31 margin in Wednesday’s second round win over West Virginia.
They responded, holding a 46-34 edge Thursday.
“Yesterday we didn’t rebound,” Calhoun said. “You can check the stats sheet if you want. We were going to rebound today.”
-- UConn sophomore Tyler Olander had one of his best games in recent weeks, finishing with four points, eight rebounds and four assists in 26 minutes.
-- Drummond sent a buzz through the Madison Square Garden crowd with a one-handed rebound dunk early in the second half.
“I just jumped,” Drummond explained.
Oh, that’s all.
-- The loss stopped UConn’s post-season winning streak at 13. The Huskies also had won seven straight Big East tournament games.
-- Check out the attached video of Calhoun's press conference.