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Big East Tournament: UConn, Syracuse Ready For Rematch

Justin Thomas #2 of the Syracuse Orange celebrates late in the sixth overtime against the Connecticut Huskies during the quarterfinal round of the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden on March 12, 2009 in New York City. (Photo by Michael Heiman/Getty Images)

Justin Thomas #2 of the Syracuse Orange celebrates late in the sixth overtime against the Connecticut Huskies during the quarterfinal round of the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden on March 12, 2009 in New York City. (Photo by Michael Heiman/Getty Images)

NEW YORK (WFAN/AP) — Jim Boeheim certainly hasn’t forgotten that magical game at Madison Square Garden two years ago. Neither have Kris Joseph, Rick Jackson and the rest of the Syracuse players who were on the floor that night.

How could they? How could anybody?

In one of the most exhilarating and exhausting college basketball games ever played, the Orange outlasted Connecticut in six overtimes to win a Big East quarterfinal for the ages. The second-longest Division I game ever played began Thursday night and bled right into Friday, as the teams combined to take 211 shots and foul eight guys out before anything was decided.

The scoreboard read 127-117, and it sticks in the mind of anybody there that night.

On Friday night, the two teams will try to do it again.

The 11th-ranked Orange will meet the No. 21 Huskies in the semifinals this time, their first matchup in the Big East tournament since that drama played out.

“We remember the six-overtime game. Absolutely,” Joseph said. “It’s going to be good.”

The teams are quite different than the two that stood toe-to-toe for 3 hours, 46 minutes that night. The Orange’s Jonny Flynn and Paul Harris, who had such an important role in their victory, are long gone, replaced by kids like Brandon Triche who remember it just the same.

“I stayed up late to watch it,” said Triche, then a senior at Jamesville-DeWitt High School in upstate New York. “I was late for school the next morning.”

UConn star Kemba Walker, who has become a national player of the year candidate, was just a freshman in his first Big East Tournament that night. He played 53 minutes and scored only eight points, but two of them tied the score with 1.1 seconds left in regulation.

Walker had two shots to end the game, too. His 3-point attempt at the buzzer of the first overtime was short, and his heave from just inside the midcourt line at the end of the second extra session bounced off the back of the rim.

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He’s gotten a little bit better at those game-winning shots since then.

Walker drained a step-back jumper just before the buzzer Thursday, lifting the Huskies to a 76-74 win over Pittsburgh in the most dramatic game of this year’s Big East tournament.

The junior guard has been on a tear ever since arriving in New York City. He finished with 24 points against the Panthers, on the heels of a 26-point performance in a first-round win over DePaul and a 28-point effort against Georgetown in the second round.

He played nearly every minute in all three games, but sure doesn’t seem to mind.

“Well, you know, like I said before, I’m one of the more experienced guys on my team and I’ve been through a lot,” Walker said. “I’m that guy on this team.”

Boeheim also doesn’t seem to think playing four games in four days will do much to slow down Walker, whose winning jumper against Pitt came after a nifty crossover dribble and paralyzing shoulder roll that got him open just inside the 3-point arc.

“They’re a team that can do that, I really think they can,” Boeheim said of running through the tournament without any byes. “Kemba Walker can play eight nights in a row, and they play a lot of guys, and I don’t see that being a factor.”

Seven of the eight teams left in the Big East tournament Thursday were ranked in the Top 25, and all of them had already reached 20 wins.

Along with No. 21 UConn’s win over third-ranked Pittsburgh and No. 11 Syracuse’s 79-73 victory over 17th-ranked St. John’s, No. 4 Notre Dame rolled to an 89-51 victory over No. 25 Cincinnati in the most lopsided quarterfinal in tournament history.

The Fighting Irish will face No. 14 Louisville, which ended Marquette’s run after two wins at Madison Square Garden with an 81-56 victory in the nightcap.

While it won’t have quite the same backdrop as Syracuse-UConn, there is still plenty at stake for the Fighting Irish and Cardinals. Notre Dame believes it can earn a No. 1 seed to the NCAA tournament if it keeps winning, while Louisville has won five of its last six games.

“I told these guys before the game, I said, ‘Not since 1996 did I walk into a place and feel as confident as this,'” Louisville coach Rick Pitino said. “The way these guys play, with confidence and dedication, we know each night we’re going to bring it.”

What’s your pick for UConn-Syracuse? Sound off in the comments below!

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