Warrick leads Orange with 26 points, 10 boards

NEW YORK (AP) -- Syracuse got it right the third time against Connecticut and now the Orange have a chance at another Big East tournament title.

Hakim Warrick had 26 points and 10 rebounds and Syracuse (No. 18 ESPN/USA Today; No. 16 AP) held on for a 67-63 victory over Connecticut (No. 14 ESPN/USA Today; No. 12 AP) on Friday night.

The third-seeded Orange (26-6) advanced to the title game for the first time since 1998. They will try to win their fourth championship, and first since 1992, against eighth-seeded West Virginia, which beat fourth-seeded Villanova 78-76 on Friday, a day after knocking off top-seeded Boston College in the quarterfinals.

"It seemed for a long time there that we made the finals every year and took it for granted," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. "It has been a while."

Connecticut had won the last three semifinal meetings with Syracuse and the most recent loss was last Saturday to end the regular season.

"We feel that we can play with them, we feel we can play with anybody," Boeheim said. "They're as good as anybody."

Charlie Villanueva had 18 points and 11 rebounds for the Huskies (22-7), who had their string of three straight championship games ended. Connecticut, the defending national champion, won the Big East in 2002 and 2004.

"We played them twice this year and on both of those occasions we were able to physically dominate them inside," Huskies coach Jim Calhoun said. "We did a tremendous job last Saturday, won by 18 points and dominated them again. They turned the tide on us tonight. They physically dominated us in every aspect of the game."

The Orange used some impressive defense to take a 32-19 halftime lead and they twice led by 21 points, the last time at 48-27 on a dunk by Warrick with 12:47 to play.

"Our defense was tremendous tonight," Boeheim said. "We really did a good job defensively. We did a great job on the boards. Hak was great."

The game started to change when Warrick, the conference player of the year, picked up his fourth foul 21 seconds after making it 48-27 and the Huskies took advantage.

Connecticut, which shot 24 percent in the first half, suddenly started hitting shots. Without Warrick's presence inside, Syracuse began to struggle on the offensive end.

"We wanted to use the clock and I thought we did a really good job even though we didn't score enough," Boeheim said. "We had enough of a lead unless we did something really bad. We got Hak back in there and he did hit that first shot which gave us a little bit of a cushion."

The Huskies went on a 13-4 run that made it 52-40 with 5:32 left. Warrick returned and hit a turnaround that seemed to reignite the Orange.

But Connecticut wasn't done.

The Huskies got within six points three times only to see Warrick or Gerry McNamara, who had 15 points, respond for Syracuse.

Connecticut could have been even closer but in an 11-second stretch the Huskies went 1-for-5 from the free-throw line. Syracuse ended any thoughts of an incredible comeback for Connecticut by going 6-for-8 from the line over the final 45 seconds.

"Our defense was the best it's been all year in the first half and most of the second half," Boeheim said. "At the end the game just got crazy, I don't know what you'd call that."

Marcus Williams had 11 points and seven assists for Connecticut, while Josh Boone had nine points and 13 rebounds. The Huskies shot 34 percent for the game (23-for-67).

Connecticut came into the tournament as the league's hottest team, closing the regular season with nine straight conference wins. But the Huskies didn't look sharp in a 66-62 quarterfinal win over Georgetown and the offensive problems continued against Syracuse.

"With about 10 minutes to go we finally started to play basketball," Calhoun said. "After two nights of not playing basketball we had built ourselves such an obstacle that we needed every call, every break, every ball to go in and we came up a bit short.

"We were 7-for-18 from the foul line. Coming down the stretch, a couple of those foul shots would have made it a one possession game and it would have been a lot more interesting," he said.

Connecticut is 9-3 in semifinal games, while the Orange, who beat Rutgers 81-57 in the quarterfinals, improved to 12-6.

The Syracuse seniors won a national championship as sophomores. Now they have a chance at a first Big East title.

"This is where we want to be," Syracuse senior Josh Pace said. "We want to be in position to win a Big East championship and go into the NCAA Tournament on a good note."


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