Ask anyone who has ever been involved in sports, and they will let you know that beating the same team three times in the same season is not an easy task no matter the opponent.
It was another back-and-fourth affair between the two on Thursday afternoon, but this time it was for a chance to move on in the Big East Tournament. UConn's hot play was evident in the second half while the Huskies went on a big run, but the steady play of Dion Waiters and James Southerland was too much to hold off as Syracuse edged out a 58-55 win.
It was a defensive game most of the way, before a big scoring surge by each team decided the outcome – and SU was the last to put one together.
"This was a tremendous comeback," Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim said. "This team has been very good down the stretch all year and that was the case today."
But the game was slow in the beginning, as both teams struggled to find the cup. Both hit one of their first two shots, before a big-time drought slowed the scoring down to a thud. Before SU figured things out on offense, the teams had combined to shoot 2 of 16 out of the gate.
Soon after, Waiters checked in and began scoring at will. His first made shot gave Syracuse a 10-8 lead, then he fired at will on the way to scoring 10 straight points for the Orange, capped with a tomahawk slam. Rakeem Christmas joined the dunk party with one of his own on the next possession, stretching the lead to eight points.
"We just wanted it more," said Waiters. "We came out there and played defense and got stops and our offense started working.
"It came down to who wanted it more."
Connecticut responded with a small run led by freshman Andre Drummond as the Huskies closed the gap to three by halftime.
The defending National Champions rode the momentum into the second-half, scoring 15 of the first 19 points of the session to take the lead for the first time.
In the spurt, UConn hit a pair of threes and Drummond finished things off with a pair of dunks – forcing Boeheim to take a timeout at the 14:10 mark.
The Orange, with the Madison Square Garden crowd anxious for a comeback, woke up offensively and attacked the smaller guards the Huskies were playing at the time. Waiters continued to assert himself and Brandon Triche brought the house down with a thundering put-back dunk over Ryan Boatright during a 7-0 run to create a one-possession game.
Waiters gave Syracuse the lead for good on a step-back jumper with less than six minutes to play.
"I hit him (Boatright) with a little hesitation and he wasn't in the picture any more, and I said ‘This is a foul shot,'" admitted Waiters. "I just stayed there, shot it, kept my follow through.
"I knew it (was going in). I felt it leave my hand…and it went in."
But it was a player who had nearly been phased out of SU's rotation that stole the show down the stretch to help the Orange put the game away.
"I missed my first two shots….but it's good to know my teammates know I can make them," said the New York City native. "They didn't give up on me."
Southerland swung the momentum all the way towards Syracuse's side when he buried a three-pointer from the top of the key at the 7:47 mark. He registered a block on the ensuing defensive possession, and hit another big three to stretch the lead minutes later.
"He can make those shots," Boeheim said of Southerland. "He made them early in the year, but he struggled in the league.
"He can make those shots and be a big factor the rest of the way."
Southerland then hit a rare two pointer, and even capped the last rally attempt by the Huskies by burying two free throws with the game on the line.