Friday, March 13, 2009

Fast Times In NYC

-Arinze Onuaku, who's free throw shooting woes have been well-chronicled, came through in the clutch last night. AO, who wasn't at full speed when UConn stoned the Orange at Storrs, Conn. back on Feb. 11, calmly sank two free throws with 2:04 remaining. It was a tense moment for any Syracuse fan. Prior to that trip to the free throw line, the kid from Lanham, Md. had hit just one of his last 19 free throws.

-UConn wasn't much better than AO in that field. The Huskies essentially opened the door for Syracuse's 6OT 127-117 upset with their array of bricks at the charity stripe. They shot 24-for-42 from the line, not exactly a clip you want during a Big East post-season game of that magnitude.

-Andy Rautins, whose got a good basketball bloodline (his father Leo starred at Cuse and played in the NBA) was lights out last night. The Jamesville, N.Y. product--a Syracuse pipeline now that budding high school prospect Brandon Triche has committed to the Orange--wet six three-pointers and seemed to always have an answer in blink-quick, dramatic fashion.

Syracuse shot the ball well from the perimeter while Jonny Flynn and Paul Harris--the high school teammates from Niagara Falls--attacked the tin at a frenetic pace. Flynn, who made a habit of reeling off ridiculous moves to get to the basket, was sublime. He poured in 34 points and hit his freebies at a 16-for-16 clip.

He never got tired in the wild, overtime maze. He managed to sink free throws, forcing his tired arms to follow through. He never relented, permeating the teeth of the UConn frontline early, often, and with efficiency.

Paul Harris, on the other hand, seemed to get his masters degree in blowing layups. Harris couldn't capitalize on a number of bunnies and during one wild sequence, he missed three straight contested layups.

It was reminiscent of then-Knickerbocker Charles Smith against the Chicago Bulls during the early 90's playoff battle. Harris, the 6-foot-4 strongman, would make up for his gaffes.

After missing what would have been an earth-shattering banger, he got his own rebound and delivered a putback plus the harm. The tandem of Harris and Flynn, at times a two-man wrecking crew for last year's injury-plagued team, seem to wear down the Huskies in the late stages.

Hasheem Thabeet, who fouled out, copped his 25th double-double but his embargo from the game hurt.

Without the big fella patrolling the paint, the Huskies had to rely on their perimeter game.

Syracuse was clearly the better team from beyond the arc, with Rautins and Devendorf rising to the occasion and hitting pulsating trifectas. From beyond the arc, UConn couldn't throw a ball into the Atlantic Ocean last night. The Huskies fired and fired, to the tune of a putrid 7-for-35 from downtown. A.J. Price (33 points, 10 dimes) and Craig Austrie--who's been mired in a shooting slump albeit he hit two mammoth threes in the OD 6OT blood battle--combined to go 5-for-23.

Last year it was the virtually unguardable Joe Alexander dunking the West Virginia Mountaineers into the ensuing round. This year it was free throws and the inability to seal the deal against longtime rival Syracuse, the same program that ended their Big East championship dreams in 2006 (see McNamara, Gerry for more on that one).

This was a Syracuse team that overcame a February slide. They stayed together through thick and thin and showed their mettled during the early morning mudfight at MSG. One bright spot for UConn, undermanned with the loss of Jerome Dyson, was the otherworldly outburst from Stanley "Sticks" Robinson. Sticks , who entered the game averaging a meager 6.1 ppg, would burst out for 28 points. He slammed home alley-opps, turned fast breaks into finesse dunks, drilled mid-range jumpers and even hit a crucial three (he was 1-for-16 prior to that pivotal threeball) at the end of regulation.

UConn will need more performances like that from Sticks, the feast or famine cat who's got athletic gifts that few individuals on this side of Rudy Gay can simulate. But on this particular night, Syracuse littered the Garden floor in an orange paintjob. Devendorf's would have been game-winning three had a flair for the dramatic, as UConn forward Gavin Edwards smothered him on his off-balance jack. Six overtimes later, Rautins stuck a go-ahead three and Flynn and Harris helped Syracuse surge ahead and take home one of the greatest games in the history of college basketball.