Syracuse might lack the star power of its 2003 NCAA national championship team, but it carries the same ambition. After defeating Arizona State...
MIAMI — Syracuse might lack the star power of its 2003 NCAA national championship team, but it carries the same ambition.
After defeating Arizona State 78-67 on Sunday and advancing to the NCAA tournament’s Sweet 16, Syracuse’s message resonated throughout the locker room afterward.
“We feel like nobody can beat us,” Syracuse point guard Jonny Flynn said. “You don’t play to get to the Sweet 16. You play to get to the Final Four and win the national championship.”
Third-seeded Syracuse doesn’t mind if the words reverberate to Memphis, where the Orange (28-9) will face Blake Griffin and No. 2 seed Oklahoma (29-5) on Friday. The winner will play top-seeded North Carolina or fourth-seeded Gonzaga in the South Regional final.
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Syracuse left AmericanAirlines Arena poised to capitalize on its recent surge. The Orange has won 9 of 10, its only loss coming March 14 to Louisville in the Big East championship. Before its streak, Syracuse had lost 7 of 10.
The Orange went from being satisfied just to make it into the NCAA tournament after a two-year absence to feeling invincible.
Forward Paul Harris said nonchalantly: “We might as well try to win the whole thing.”
Syracuse believes it can topple the higher seeds that await because its defense is improving.
“The offense never has been a problem for us,” Flynn said.
“When our defense is on, we’re a great team.”
The Orange’s defensive prowess was evident against the sixth-seeded Sun Devils, whose star, James Harden, was shut down. Syracuse also frustrated center Jeff Pendergraph and disrupted point guard Derek Glasser.
Harden shot 2 of 10, including 0 of 5 from beyond the arc, and finished with 10 points thanks to making six free throws. Pendergraph fouled out after 24 minutes and had only nine points and two rebounds. A game after scoring a career-high 22, Glasser was held to three points on 1-of-8 shooting.
Syracuse’s post players set the tone, keeping Pendergraph out of the paint and on the other end pounding ASU in the paint.
It perhaps was a preview of what the 6-10, 251-pound Griffin, projected as the top overall NBA draft pick, should expect.
Pendergraph’s take on Syracuse power forward Rick Jackson (6-9, 240 pounds), and center Arinze Onuaku (6-9, 275 pounds)?
“They’re gigantic,” Pendergraph said. “It’s like a nightmare.”
“He’s like a 7-foot Ray Lewis,” Pendergraph said of Onuaku. “He’s like a linebacker.”