Lessons learned from the semifinals

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One overtime? Really? That’s all you got for us?

After surviving Syracuse 76-71, Connecticut is just one victory away from becoming the first Big East team to win five games in five days.

“I know none of us wanted to play no six overtime game again,” said Kemba Walker, referring to the epic SU-UConn clash at the Garden two years ago.

The Huskies will meet Louisville, which also won in overtime, 83-77 over Notre Dame.

We’ll dissect the championship teams after Saturday’s slugfest, but here are a couple lessons we learned about the two teams ousted in the semifinals.

  • The Orange will only go as far as Scoop Jardine takes them:

The embattled Syracuse point guard never appeared fazed with the third-seeded Orange down by six with 20 seconds left in regulation.

“In that situation, it doesn’t take a lot of brains, you just have to shoot,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said.

Scoop can shoot, all right. Sure, he knocked down two consecutive 3s, including one banked in off the glass, to force the game to an extra session, but SU might have pulled away with a victory had he been looking to pass earlier in the second half. The junior finished with just one assist and three turnovers to go with 7-of-22 shooting.

“We’re at our best when our four guys are at their best,” Boeheim said, alluding to the core of Jardine, Brandon Triche, Kris Joseph and Big East Defensive Player of the Year Rick Jackson. “Those guys have to be great for us to go anywhere.”

Just two of them played great last night. Joseph had perhaps his best game since getting knocked out with a concussion in mid-January. The swing forward finished with 20 points but more importantly remained active without the ball, slashing to the basket and hustling for nine rebounds. Triche, who UConn Jim Calhoun called “the guy who can break you,” had an off-shooting night, going 2 of 9 for just four points.

“We still could have won,” said a perturbed Jackson, who had 12 points and eight boards. “I don’t want to have this feeling … ‘we could have’ later on this month, you know?”

It’s easy to feel his pain. SU regained momentum late in the season, working the ball inside-out offensively to win six straight games. What we saw last night was Jardine working all by himself.

“We’ve seen him enough to know what he does well and how to get him off his game,” Walker said. “He’s a great player but every player has weaknesses. Some of the things he does I might not do.”

Say, force up a 3 early in the shot clock while Jackson, the conference’s leader in field goal percentage, is in perfect position down on the blocks. Or turn the ball over on a fast break, then slump down and stare as UConn goes the other way for two. Or even deny that there’s anything wrong with the poor decision he made in the first place.

“Our offense is fine,” Jardine said. “You’re not going to shoot lights out every night.”

You don’t have to. Not when you have a senior leader like Jackson who is beasting Big East front courts when given the chance.

“This is my last go-around. I want the ball,” Jackson said, carefully skirting the question if he should be a bigger part of the offense. “Whatever it takes to win, I’m in. Our offense is a lot better than what we’ve shown at times.”

  • Notre Dame is a nightmare matchup away from going home early in the NCAAs:

The NCAA tournament is all about matchups and perhaps no one team in America is more vulnerable to a nightmare matchup more than the Irish, who had a promising season clipped in the first round last year against Old Dominion.

Notre Dame failed miserably against Louisville’s pressure defense, as Conference Player of the Year Ben Hansbrough had a season-high six turnovers and just 13 points on 3 of 16 shooting.

“We got in their face, then maybe got in their heads, too,” said Cardinals guard Kyle Kuric.

The Irish insist they are more than a jump shooting team, but all six of their losses now have come when shooting 33.3 percent or less from beyond the arc. They were outrebounded 41-32 by a team starting four guards.

“We aren’t soft, man. You don’t run through this conference like we did if you’re soft,” said forward Carleton Scott. “This may help us in the long run. Just have to learn from it.”

Notre Dame, though, may be schooled the same exact way in the coming weeks.


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