Party Time at Gampel

STORRS, Conn. - Seven is George Blaney's magic number.

According to Connecticut's associate head coach, that's the cutoff number for opponents shooting three-pointers. Seven or more made threes against UConn and the Huskies are in trouble.

"We've had too many sevens or above," Blaney said Friday.

Blaney's magic number could be especially pertinent Saturday (9 p.m., ESPN) with No. 2 Syracuse (28-1, 15-1 Big East) coming to visit Gampel Pavilion and taking center stage with the Huskies (17-10, 7-8 Big East) on this week's GameDay broadcast. Syracuse isn't the best three-point shooting team in the Big East, but the Orange averages 6.275 made per game and shoots 34.5 percent from beyond the arc.

UConn, on the other hand, ranks dead last in the Big East in three-point field percentage defense. Teams are shooting 35.2 percent against the Huskies. Georgetown leads the conference and the Hoyas yield just 28.6 percent per game.

Just two weeks ago in Syracuse, when the Orange defeated UConn 85-67 at the Carrier Dome, Syracuse blitzed the Huskies with 10 of 16 three-point shooting. That's 62.5 percent. Scoop Jardine turned the game around with consecutive three-pointers after UConn had trimmed the lead to 63-61and Syracuse dominated the final six minutes.

Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim called it the best his team had played offensively all season. UConn's inconsistency guarding the three certainly played a role in that.

"It has to be [a concern]," Blaney said Friday before practice. "We did a much better job in the Villanova game but still we have to defend the three. We've had double digit threes in a number of games. It's actually been a concern all year."

In UConn's overtime win Monday night in Philadelphia, Villanova was 3-for-9 from beyond the arc. But the game before that, Marquette was 10-for-22 against the Huskies.

Why do the Huskies have such a hard time defending the three?

"It's mostly not getting a hand up," Blaney said. "It's like getting there and not putting your hand up to cause a little bit more distraction. I think that's the primary thing. It sounds like an easy concept – get your hand up. But you watch all basketball . . . it's one of the least things players do - at any level."

UConn is not a bad defensive team. The Huskies give up 63.6 points per game, which ranks right in the middle of the Big East. UConn is second in overall field goal percentage defense (38.3) and second in blocked shots at 6.44 - just behind the Orange (7.21 average).

"If somebody gets beat [on defense], you've got to help or they get open shots," UConn guard Jeremy Lamb said. "We've just got to be quicker and be aware of our man."

Of course, beating Syracuse isn't as simple as defending against the three. Blaney feels strongly that this could be Boeheim's best team ever. The Orange plays tough zone defense, as always. But offensively, Boeheim has never had so many weapons.

"He has four guys on his team who could average 20 points a game," Blaney said. "So he has answers and depth. It's not one guy – it's Jardine, [Kris] Joseph, [C.J.] Fair and [Dion] Waiters. Waiters, at one point, was the best player in the league. Joseph has a good chance of being the player of the year. Jimmy has more than one go-to guy."

Syracuse needs one more win to wrap up the outright Big East regular season championship. UConn would prefer delaying that celebration to the Carrier Dome March 3 when the Orange plays Louisville.

One thing for certain is that the Syracuse players never give up on their opportunities. This month alone, the Orange has defeated Georgetown in OT, scored six of the last eight points to defeat Louisville 52-51, scored 10 of the last 12 points to defeat Rutgers 74-64, and rallied from a 13-point deficit to defeat South Florida 56-48.

"We've been very, very good in late game situations," Boeheim said. "I think we've had six games that were in real doubt late in the game, and we've won all of those. That's not something that happens all the time. We thought we had a good chance to be a good team. Winning those close games has been the difference."

UConn, which hasn't finished well this season, must find a way to get over that hump against the Orange. Otherwise, the Huskies could find themselves really sweating it out on Selection Sunday. After Saturday, UConn has only two regular season games remaining.

"We've been talking about winning the game," Blaney said. "And that we're 23rd in the RPI and that we are in really good position. This game could put us in much better position but we are in excellent position."

GAME CAPSULE

No. 2 Syracuse (28-1, 15-1 Big East) at UConn (17-0, 7-8)

Date: Feb. 25, 2012

Time: 9 p.m.

Site: Gampel Pavilion, Storrs, Conn.

TV: ESPN (Dan Shulman, Dick Vitale, Erin Andrews)

Radio: UConn Radio Network/WTIC-AM 1080 (Joe D'Ambrosio, Wayne Norman)

Series: Syracuse leads, 52-36

Notes: In Big East regular-season play Syracuse holds a 28-26 advantage. In the Big East tournament Syracuse leads 7-6. . . . Syracuse beat UConn 85-67 two weeks ago in the Carrier Dome before 33,430 – the largest college basketball crowd fo the season and fourth-largest in Syracuse history. . . Last season the teams split two meetings. . . . UConn is 17-17 at home against Syracuse and 4-0 against the Orange in Gampel Pavilion.

Last meeting: Syracuse 85, UConn 67 (Feb. 11, 2012)

Scoop Jardine scored 21 points to lead four Syracuse players in double figures as Syracuse pulled away from the Huskies in the final six minutes. . . . Ryan Boatright led the Huskies with 14 points and Andre Drummond had 13 despite rolling his right ankle and missing the middle portion of the second half.

SYRACUSE PROBABLE STARTERS

G 11 Scoop Jardine Sr. 6-2 195 8.9 ppg

G 20 Brandon Triche Jr. 6-4 205 9.2 ppg

C 51 Fab Melo So. 7-0 255 7.7 ppg

F 32 Kris Joseph Sr. 6-7 215 14.0 ppg

F 25 Rakeem Christmas Fr. 6-9 228 2.8 ppg

UCONN PROBABLE STARTERS

G 3 Jeremy Lamb So. 6-5 180 17.9 ppg

G 11 Ryan Boatright Fr. 6-0 160 10.2 ppg

C 12 Andre Drummond Fr. 6-10 270 9.9 ppg

F 34 Alex Oriakhi Jr. 6-9 240 6.8 ppg

F 22 Roscoe Smith So. 6-8 205 3.7 ppg

NOTABLE

GAMPEL GAME DAY:It was anything but a normal day at Gampel Pavilion Friday. More than 100 credentialed ESPN employees, including Digger Phelps and Jay Bilas, were preparing for Saturday's telecasts from Storrs – both morning and night. The GameDay bus was parked across the street from Gampel. And by 5 p.m., at least 20 tents were already pitched under the canopy – but outside in the cold, wet, drizzly conditions (with wind to come Saturday morning. "It's crazy," forward Alex Oriakhi said of the campus buzz. "Students are already there camping in the cold. You know it's a big game when kids are camping out there." Blaney said, "It's going to rockin' and rollin'. And the kids know it." . . . There will be GameDay programs at 10 a.m and 11 a.m. Oriakhi and Jeremy Lamb will be featured in the "know your teammate" segment.

NAPIER IMPROVING: Blaney said Shabazz Napier's sore foot is healing and "fine" but he said it was unlikely the sophomore guard will be back in the starting lineup yet. Napier, who called out his teammates after the loss to Marquette last Saturday, came off the bench Monday at Villanova but may have saved UConn's season with his game winning shot in overtime. Blaney doesn't think that Villanova win has much to do with Saturday's game. "There may be carryover if you're playing Bates the next game," said Blaney, who is filling in for coach Jim Calhoun (back surgery Monday) again. "I don't know about Syracuse."

RUDY'S TIME: Last week Worthy Patterson and Bill Corley took their spots among the Huskies of Honor. Saturday night it will be a more contemporary hero. Rudy Gay, now with the NBA Memphis Grizzlies, will be back to see his number added to the wall in Gampel. Gay played for UConn from 2004-06 and currently is on USA Basketball's roster for the Olympics this summer. UConn officials say Ben Gordon and Caron Butler have been voted into the honor society but haven't been able to make arrangements to visit Storrs yet.

OLLIE IN MANCHESTER SUNDAY:Assistant coach Kevin Ollie will represent Calhoun at the Workout for Autism Speaks event at CardioExpress in Manchester Sunday at 8:30 a.m.

QUOTE OF THE DAY:"The players want me to take a nap." – Blaney, 72, on how the team is going to pass the time Saturday leading up to the 9 p.m. game.


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