Scott reflects on the end of the Great Basketball Rivalry…UConn-Syracuse

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It began at the Manley Field House January 26th 1980, a snowy night in Syracuse, the only one of the games to be played in that old facility, a ten point Syracuse win, and ended at Hartford’s XL Center on a February night in 2013, when Connecticut was digging out from the storm of the century.  I know.  I was there.  I was at courtside for both games.  I could see them sweat.  And now it’s over.  The greatest rivalry in Big East Basketball history came to an end last night with a finish fitting of the series itself, unranked, undermanned UConn knocking off sixth ranked Syracuse by eight.  I was the only media person to cover both games.  Tim Tolokan was the sports editor of the Norwich Bulletin in 1980 and covered that first game.  Phil Chardis was the UConn beat writer for the Manchester Journal Inquirer.  He was there.  Both now work for the UConn athletic department and both were in attendance last night as the final chapter was written in the rivalry that defined the glory of what was once the nation’s premier basketball league.  With UConn ineligible for the post season there’s no chance of a meeting in the league tournament and now, with Syracuse headed for the ACC, it is done.  “The league wasn’t able to be kept together”, said Jim Boeheim, the only man to coach Syracuse through the Big East years, and he didn’t hesitate to blame the lack of foresight of conference officials for bringing it to this.  “If they signed the football contract two years ago”, he said, “We wouldn’t have this problem.  They didn’t do it.”  So ends a rivalry that will forever be remembered for a six overtime game in the 2009 Big East Tournament that went until three o’clock in the morning and was won by the Orange, the last time they scored or gave up 100 points in a game.  In the regular season that year UConn was the last team to hold Syracuse under 32% shooting.  It was a rivalry that included three regular season overtime games, including an Orange win in Hartford that went to overtime on a Syracuse dunk with less than a second left.  There was the game at the Hartford Civic Center in February of 1999 when UConn, on it’s way to it’s first national championship, lost to the Orange, who had four double digit scorers, and lost the number one ranking.  And the February night 10 years later when UConn defended the nation’s top ranking with a 15 point win behind 16 rebounds and seven blocks from Hasheem Thabeet.  “Hopefully we’ll be able to play somewhere, somehow”, said UConn coach Kevin Ollie, mourning the end of the rivalry, “But to end it 29-29 (regular season record) is pretty special, that’s what a real rivalry is all about.”  There may be other games, but Boeheim understands the rivalry, for all time, ends here.  “We’re open to playing anybody”, he said of the prospect of a renewal with UConn, “But the biggest rivalries are going to be the teams in your league, that’s just the way it is.  Even if you play somebody again, it will never be the same.  Our biggest rivalry before the Big East was formed was St. Boneventure, and we haven’t played them in 10 years.”  It ends fittingly, the rivalry that defined a league that now faces it’s own demise.  For those of us who were there, from the first game to the last, and will never forget, what a time it was.  With a comment from the sports world, I’m Scott Gray.


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