November 26, 2015

Longtime rivals in the old Big East, Connecticut and Syracuse are meeting for the first time since both teams bolted the league for richer pastures two years ago.

The No. 18 Huskies and Orange are looking to remain unbeaten Thursday when they vie for a spot in the championship game of the Battle 4 Atlantis.

Connecticut (4-0) and Syracuse (4-0) were among the seven founding members of the basketball-centric Big East in 1979 and combined for 12 conference tournament championships. Perhaps the most historic meeting came in the 2009 quarterfinals when Syracuse outlasted Connecticut over six overtimes in the longest game in league history.

That history isn't lost on UConn guard Rodney Purvis heading into the first matchup since the Huskies won 66-58 at home on Feb. 13, 2013.

"I remember being in high school when they went into (six) overtimes," he said. "My mom let me stay up and watch that game. So I think to be a part of that game, it should be really good."

There hasn't been much of a rivalry after the Orange left for the ACC and the Huskies joined the new American Athletic Conference following the 2012-13 season. With both teams looking to remain unbeaten, perhaps that old intensity can resurface in the Bahamas.

UConn should at least be expecting a stiffer test after outscoring its first four opponents by an average of 25.5 points. The Huskies built a 19-point lead before beating Michigan 74-60 in the opening round Wednesday. They owned a 42-31 rebounding advantage and had five players score in double figures.

"We had to game plan this one out there - the whole night," coach Kevin Ollie said. "We had our principles and they stayed solid the whole night. We just had contributions from every area."

Purvis scored 13 points and grabbed six rebounds while hitting 6 of 11 from the floor. The junior's 14.0 points per game is second on the team to Sterling Gibbs' 14.5.

Daniel Hamilton is looking to build on his best effort of the season after the sophomore forward had 16 points, nine rebounds and nine assists.

"We just take what the defense gives us," Purvis said. "We have several different options, so it's kind of hard to focus on one guy."

The Orange are coming off their best offensive showing, leading by as many as 25 points, hitting 14 of 28 3-point attempts and collecting a season-high 19 assists in an 83-70 win over Charlotte on Wednesday.

"When we shoot like that, we don't need a lot of people," coach Jim Boeheim said. "Overall, (for) their first game (at the tournament), I really thought we were sharp, really moved the ball well."

Senior forward Michael Gbinije, who leads Syracuse with 20.3 points per game, had a career-high 26 and shot 9 for 11 - including 6 of 8 from long range. Trevor Cooney added a season-high 19 points after getting just eight in Saturday's 66-55 win over Elon.

The winner will face 10th-ranked Gonzaga or No. 25 Texas A&M in Friday's championship game.

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