UConn leaves Syracuse, and a calendar, far behind

Photo of Brian Koonz

STORRS — There are games when expectations carry the day, those times when talent is enough to win at Gampel Pavilion.

But UConn coach Geno Auriemma has never subscribed to that model, not when he remembers putting down rain-catching buckets at Guyer Gym next door.

A year ago, when Breanna Stewart was the best player on the best team, the Huskies routed Syracuse 82-51 in the only game that mattered in April.

This time, the game came two weeks earlier in the NCAA tournament, but the calendar never told the Huskies.

The outcome, the energy, the relentless pursuit of victory was the same. Top-seeded UConn punished No. 8 Syracuse at both ends of the floor Monday and rolled to a 94-64 win in the NCAA tournament’s second round.

It was the 109th consecutive victory for the Huskies, a record that only seems to be gaining momentum in March.

Auriemma understands a 30-point lead in the first half is the worst time to let off the throttle. At some point in this tournament — maybe in the Bridgeport Regional, maybe in Dallas at the Final Four —UConn will finally face someone who can punch back.

But after two games in Storrs, the Huskies (33-0) have played with orchestrated abandon, running the floor with brilliant passing and executing the kind of defense that crushes a team and ends its season.

On Saturday, it was Albany. This time, it was Syracuse (22-11).

Before a vocal crowd of 8,274 fans and a national TV audience on ESPN2, Syracuse was reduced to the latest also-ran, a team that came into Storrs with big dreams and little chance to break the Huskies.

Or their ridiculous record.

This is how you chase history each season, with 11 national championship banners unfurled with the latest tailwind of Kia Nurse, Gabby Williams and Katie Lou Samuelson.

From a jump ball off the opening tip — Samuelson crashed to the floor, smothered by orange uniforms, and pulled a ball into her belly — it was game on here for the Huskies.

For Syracuse, the occasional floater in the lane from Alexis Peterson, the 3-pointer that never mattered from Brittney Sykes, all of it was inconsequential. UConn was simply playing on a different level.

Maybe even, a different planet.

With under six minutes to play in the third quarter here, Williams went to the foul line. Suddenly, Auriemma traded his standard posture —open collar, crossed arms — for a stance where he leaned in a little, just to make a point.

"Hey!" he shouted at the Huskies flanking the key. "No more layups, all right?"

This is the precision Auriemma demands and the perfection it generates. As the scoreboard spun toward 100 points, the demands of excellence glistened on UConn foreheads all across the floor.

In the end, the Huskies were outragesously too much for Syracuse. Except for the opening four minutes, when the Orange still played with hope and a blueprint with lottery-like odds, the outcome was never in doubt.

Even when Syracuse cut UConn’s lead to 9-7 early — and then forced a turnover at the other end — it was merely a delay of game, the delay of a predictable outcome.

The Huskies immediately answered Syracuse with a 19-4 run to close the first quarter with a 28-11 lead. The gash was open, and the Orange were hemorrhaging in Storrs.

bkoonz@ctpost.com; @briankoonz