Syracuse-UConn at MSG conjures up images of Ray Allen, Gerry McNmara, The Per’fesser, Calhoun-Bot 3000. The league’s greatest rivalry (sorry, Georgetown) always feels like everything is on the line. Tonight will be no different. Despite both the Orange and Huskies having locks on NCAA bids, this game transcends pragmatic thought. Does either team want to be playing again tomorrow night? Do you want to endure another street fight in the Big East title game? Don’t you simply make sure to rest your starters tonight, keep them fresh for next weekend?
Of course not. And that’s what makes this rivalry one of the nation’s best for over a decade. You can’t lay down against the Huskies. You have to defeat the enemy, those oily Husky fans with their Kemba jerseys and their Mohegan Sun debts. You must disassemble the wires connecting Calhoun-Bot’s circuit board. You cannot lose to UConn at the Garden.
How do I know this? Well, because we’ve made a cottage industry out of crushing Husky fans dreams and sending them back up I-95 to their little suburban sprawl houses in New Britain and their drab war-era barracks in Storrs.
In fact, even I started questioning whether it was truly worth the emotional and physical grind of winning tonight. Then I read UConn fangirl and CSNNE.com columnist Mary Paoletti’s piece and was snapped back to reality and bloodlust. SU has to win. Because that’s what we do.
“2004-05: Two wins over Syracuse during the regular season are cheapened by a 67-63 loss that bounces the Huskies from the Big East Tournament.
2005-06: March 9, Gerry McNamara hits a 3 with 5.5 seconds left in regulation to tie the Huskies in the Big East quarterfinal game. The ninth-seeded Orange goes on to beat No. 1 Connecticut 86-84 in overtime.
2006-07: A 17-14 overall record, 6-10 in conference. Elimination from the Big East tournament by Syracuse – yes, again – this time, by 13 points. No tournament, no NIT, no postseason, nothing. For a while, I refuse to believe that this year of my life is real.
2008-09: To try something different, UConn plays Syracuse. My boys battle the wretched Orange for 40 minutes of regulation play and six overtimes. When it ends, Syracuse wins 127-117 and I am collapsed in front of the TV, exhausted, in a pool of my own tears, saliva and vomit.
This is not our year. While I’ll brag to anyone within earshot that UConn is going to win and keep winning, there’s a part of me – the part that gave me a seizure when I visited San Diego and induces PTSD when I meet someone named George– that expects the Huskies to lose. Probably not to DePaul, but later . . . on a 3-pointer drilled by a 27-year old Gerry McNamara in the 86th overtime frame.
And it will hurt.”
Wow, I had almost forgotten those four straight smack downs of UConn. After the first three, you tend to lose count. Early March means melting snow, Joe Lunardi and trampling Connecticut’s dreams. For the record, Paoletti is a decent human being, a talented on-air voice and a terrific writer. She’s been pleasant toward me in the workplace. She’s dropped by the studios to watch a Bruins game with the crew. We even made a friendly bet on the first SU-UConn game of the season (in which I had to don a Huskies jersey and then quickly took three successive showers). She just has one glaring character flaw. She’s a UConn fan.
“There’s part of me that expects the Huskies to lose. Probably not to DePaul, but later… on a 3-pointer drilled by a 27-year old Gerry McNamara in the 86th overtime frame. And it will hurt.”
So be it.