Syracuse is in position to deal a blow to the NCAA tournament hopes of one of its biggest rivals.
The second-ranked Orange look to stretch their win streak to nine games Saturday night when they visit Gampel Pavilion to face Connecticut, which continues to play without coach Jim Calhoun.
Syracuse (28-1, 15-1) has guaranteed a share of the Big East title heading into this rematch. The Orange closed on a 22-6 run in their 85-67 home win over Connecticut (17-10, 7-8) on Feb. 11.
“Connecticut played us evenly for almost the whole game here and then we had a spurt at the end so we know how difficult they can be, it was a two-point game here,” coach Jim Boeheim said. “I still think they’re a very good team and it’ll be a very difficult game Saturday.”
The strong finishes have continued in Syracuse’s three games since. The Orange scored the final six points in a 52-51 win at then-No. 19 Louisville on Feb. 13, used a 10-2 run to close Sunday’s 74-64 victory at Rutgers and ended with a 9-2 run Wednesday in a 56-48 home win over South Florida.
“I think 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 and that’s not something that happens all the time, it’s difficult to do that.”
Connecticut announced Wednesday that Calhoun, who has been on a medical leave of absence since Feb. 3, will remain out for the next two games. The Hall of Fame coach is set to undergo surgery to address a lower back condition, with associate head coach George Blaney continuing to fill in for him.
The Huskies won for just the third time in 10 games Monday when Shabazz Napier made a 29-footer with 0.6 seconds left in overtime for a 73-70 victory at Villanova. Napier doubled his point total with the winning shot.
“He has done it in high school and he has done it here,” Blaney said. “He is really good when he feels it. When he is on, he can pull up from any place.”
Jeremy Lamb scored a career-high 32 points. He is averaging 21.8 on 52.5 percent shooting over his last four games after a three-game stretch in which he averaged 12.7 on 27.0 percent.
An elite matchup at center is on tap once more with 6-foot-10 UConn freshman Andre Drummond going up against Syracuse 7-footer Fab Melo. Both finished with four fouls, but Drummond had more points (13-8) and rebounds (7-3) in the first meeting.
Boeheim said numbers are deceiving with Melo, who missed three games earlier this season due to an academic issue.
“He’s more of a factor than his stats show because people really pay attention to him and really focus on keeping him out of the lane and blocking him out and that enables some of our other guys to get in there and make plays,” Boeheim said.
Syracuse, which is 0-4 at Gampel Pavilion, ended a seven-game road losing streak in the series with last season’s 66-58 victory in Hartford.
UConn is inducting Memphis Grizzlies swingman Rudy Gay into its “Huskies of Honor” on Saturday.