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UConn men upset No. 6 Syracuse 66-58

By Gavin Keefe

Publication: The Day

Published February 14. 2013 4:00AM   Updated February 14. 2013 9:20AM
Jessica Hill/ AP photo
R.J. Evans, the former Norwich Free Academy great, reacts after being fouled while making a basket during the first half of UConn's 66-58 upset win over No. 6 Syracuse on Wednesday night at the XL Center in Hartford. Evans completed the three-point play, his only points of the night, during the final Big East game between the two rivals.

Hartford — So much has been taken away from UConn this season.

No Big East tournament.

No postseason of any kind.

The Huskies have become almost a forgotten team in the college basketball world.

But no one can take away what they did Wednesday. They displayed the energy, heart and hustle of a champion, shocking No. 6 Syracuse, 66-58, in an entertaining Big East game before a rowdy XL Center crowd of 13,518.

"We're just one of the purest teams playing right now," coach Kevin Ollie said. "We're not playing for postseason. We're playing for the love of UConn. We're playing for the love of each other. We're playing for the pride of getting better.

"They can't ban us from that. They can ban us from the postseason, they can ban us from the Big East tournament, but they can't ban us from getting better and loving each other."

During a postgame mob scene, the emotional players headed into the family section to celebrate.

"The big games, we call them our championship games," sophomore Ryan Boatright said. "We can't go to the postseason. … The energy was there. I felt the intensity in practice the day before the game and shoot-around. I thought we were going to come out and have a great game."

UConn (17-6, 7-4) played its most complete this season while beating the first-place Orange (20-4, 8-3) and climbing into the thick of the regular season title race.

Boatright was just one of several Husky heroes, scoring a game-high 17 points. Freshman Omar Calhoun hit big shots, scoring 11 of his 15 points in the second half. His 3-pointer put UConn on top for good, 45-42, with 9:48 remaining.

The Huskies sparkled on defense, holding the Orange to a season-low 35.4 percent, and also won the rebounding battle, 38-36. Their guards penetrated a tough zone and found open shooters, as UConn shot 46.7 percent.

Late in the game and with starter Tyler Olander in foul trouble, Ollie moved Niels Giffey and DeAndre Daniels to the four and five spots. And the Huskies held on for a statement-making win.

"It was a great game," Ollie said. "The guys played hard, and with energy, effort and focus. … Every guy that played on our roster came in and contributed."

The victory was especially sweet for UConn because it was the last Big East meeting between two fierce rivals.

"They got to leave with the taste of UConn in their mouth going to the ACC, so it was definitely a good win," Calhoun said.

The Huskies played with great energy from the start. They rode a late surge to take a 29-24 halftime lead.

And when Syracuse scored the first six points of the second half to wrestle away the lead, UConn simply dug in and fought back. Calhoun, who made a nice living in the corner, buried a 3-pointer and Boatright's fast break jam pushed UConn in front, 47-42.

UConn's hustling defense forced the Orange to take bad shots.

On the offensive end, the Huskies patiently worked down the shot clock. Calhoun converted two straight 3-pointers for a 55-46 lead with 6:13 left. UConn made 6-of-8 from beyond the arc in the second half.

The lead grew to 10 (59-49) on Giffey's two free throws. The Huskies closed out the game from the foul line.

UConn won despite committing a season-high 18 turnovers and playing with a shorthanded frontcourt. With reserve center Enosch Wolf, who's been suspended indefinitely, unavailable, Ollie turned to freshman Phil Nolan, who had a career-high five rebounds and played active defense.

"Once again, they fought all the obstacles and made it through and came out with fantastic win," Ollie said.

Now the Huskies have seven more games remaining. They plan on fighting as hard as they did on Wednesday to try to win a regular-season title.

"We're good," Boatright said. "We feel we're supposed to be here. We shocked a lot of people. … It would mean everything (to win a title) considering they tried to take everything from us. They tried to bury us, man. For us to come out and play with pride and play for UConn, the best thing we can do to show them is to win the regular season title."

g.keefe@theday.com

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