That theory was put to the test again Thursday in the quarterfinals of the Big East Conference tournament. And for almost 35 minutes, it appeared Connecticut was going to lend some validity to the idea by defeating No. 2 Syracuse for the first time in three tries this season.
UConn trailed the Orange by eight points, surged back to take an eight-point lead of its own, but then went seven minutes and seven seconds between field goals down the stretch as Syracuse pulled out a 58-55 victory to advance to the tournament semifinals.
Syracuse (31-1) has developed a real knack for overcoming deficits and coach Jim Boeheim's team did it again on a day when stars Kris Joseph (10 points), Scoop Jardine (2 points) and C.J. Fair (2 points) struggled to score. Dion Waiters (18 points) and James Southerland (10 points) came off the bench to provide just enough offense and hit the clutch shots Syracuse needed.
"The anguish I feel is disappointment for them," UConn coach Jim Calhoun said of his team. "They were primed mentally today to do something very special and almost pulled it off.
"No one can tell you that it wasn't a good team who was wearing blue today. Did we shoot great? No. Did we make great decisions? No. Did we play with great heart and great intensity and did we play for us and each other? Without a doubt – and I couldn't be prouder of them."
One week from now, no one will be discussing how may wins UConn had against Syracuse. Starting with Selection Sunday, the focus will shift to who is in the NCAA Tournament, where those teams are seeded, where they are playing and who is in their bracket.
Syracuse should be a No. 1 seed, likely playing in the regional that feeds into the finale at Boston. UConn (20-13) should be in the field as well, especially if the selection committee honors its own emphasis on strength of schedule.
"I think Connecticut is a really good team," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. "I would be shocked if they don't win two games in the NCAA Tournament – at the minimum. At the minimum."
The Huskies will have to wait until Sunday to found out their fate. They should be comforted by the fact they improved during three games in the Garden, but it will be anxious period the next few days.
"I was nervous last year and I knew we were making it," guard Shabazz Napier said. "I'll probably be nervous again – that's just how I am."
Napier (15 points) and Lamb (10 points) were targets of Syracuse's zone defense, which extended out even further to get to them and make shooting difficult.
Lamb was 1-for=3 from the field in the second half. Napier finished 5-for-17 overall and when UConn's guards are having that much trouble scoring, the Huskies can't win.
"They were three, four feet beyond the top of the key and they tried to get our big guys," Calhouh said. "They were begging our big guys to come up and relief pressure."
Napier missed a shot with just over 14 minutes left that Drummond took and slammed down – to the delight of the Gardan fans – to give UConn a 39-31 lead.
"I don't think Syracuse has ever been down by more than three points to anybody," Drummond said. "For us to go up by eight was good. We should have held it out a little more. We made some mistakes down the stretch of the game."
While UConn struggled on offense, the Huskies couldn't stop Waiters and Southerland. Southerland shocked the entire building with two critical three-pointers. Souterland was 28 of 90 from beyond the arc all season.
"James is a tremendous shooter," Boeheim said. "He can make those shots."
Lamb said there is no such thing as extra confidence that comes from losing to one of the top seeds in the upcoming NCAA Tournament But the Huskies did accomplish something.
a"We found ourselves," Drummond said. "That's what it boils down to. The past seven days we found out who we are as a team, what we need to do to keep moving forward throughout the rest of the season.