This season has been a series of obstacles for the Huskies and first-year coach Kevin Ollie, starting last spring when the NCAA banned UConn from the 2013 postseason, followed by Jim Calhoun's retirement in September, and up through some three months of actual games.
But almost every time Ollie has faced adversity, he's overcome it. Wednesday night at the XL Center was no different. With No. 6 Syracuse in town and UConn without big man Enosch Wolf, Ollie's already-thin frontcourt was thinner. Turns out, it didn't matter.
The Huskies led 29-24 at the break and eventually won their 17th game of the season, 66-58.
Sophomore guard Ryan Boatright led the way with 17 points, with freshman Omar Calhoun adding 15. Sophomore DeAndre Daniels, meanwhile, pulled eight rebounds while freshman Phil Nolan -- who got more playing time because of Wolf's absence -- had five rebounds of his own (though he continues to look for his first points in Big East action this season).
In fact, UConn out-rebounded Syracuse 38-36, something they haven't been able to say much this season. The Huskies also held the Orange to 35 percent shooting from the floor, while converting 47 percent of their looks. Put it all together and it's one of the biggest wins in Ollie's young career.
"Every guy that played on our roster came in and contributed," Ollie said after the game. "Our guards, it starts and stops with them. And they played tremendous defense. You see a guy like Michael Carter-Williams, a great player, get one assist. And we hold a team with so much talent to 35 percent, it really shows the hard work and dedication they put in.
"With all the obstacles, there is always opportunity behind those obstacles. Once again, they fought all obstacles and made it through and came out with a fantastic win."
Here's the thing: in the face of everything -- the distractions, the new coach, the suspensions -- the Huskies have played inspired this season. So much so, you could argue, that they should be better than their 17-6 record (7-4 in the Big East). So the players weren't surprised by Wednesday's result.
“(Upsetting Syracuse is) realistic because anybody can lose in the Big East," Boatright said. "You can lose easily to any other team you go up against. We really should be in first or tied for second, and we let two or three games slip that we should have won. That’s what comes from the growing pains.”
As for those games that got away, Boatright added: “We lost to Marquette and St. John’s; we let those both go. I feel that the only game we really lost this year was the Louisville game, the other games we lost ourselves. We feel like we are supposed to be here and that we have shocked a lot of people."
The sad irony is that, at this stage of the season, the 2012-13 team might be one of UConn's most consistent. Unfortunately, it all ends with the regular-season finale against Providence on March 9.