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UConn Holds Off Syracuse, Advances To Big East Championship

The Orange fought hard, but it wasn't to be.

Score: No. 2 UConn 64, No. 3 Syracuse 51

Stars: UConn:Kelly Faris 7 Pts, 12 Reb, 4 Ast, 3 Stl. Stefanie Dolson 13 Pts, 9 Reb, 3 Ast, 2 Blk, 3 Stl. Syracuse:Kayla Alexander 14 Pts, 6 Reb. First Syracuse player to ever reach 2,000 career points.

Story: Syracuse did everything it could to prevent it, but there was never any doubt at any point this season about who would meet at the XL Center on March 12 for the Big East championship.

For the third straight season, it is UConn and Notre Dame.

Syracuse outscored UConn 27-25 in the second half, but a 15-point halftime lead allowed the Huskies to survive with a 64-51 win, earning the right to play in their eighth straight championship game.

"That was a crazy game, I thought," Coach Geno Auriemma said. "We did a lot of really really good things in the first half, and we got a lot of contributions from various people and we got ourselves in a pretty good situation, playing pretty well defensively."

The Huskies were in control throughout the first half. Syracuse got in a few punches, but the Huskies' 51.9 percent field goal percentage in the first half helped them build a comfortable lead. Despite the 15-point advantage, however, the Orange refused to give up, and UConn made a few mistakes that allowed them to keep it close.

"I thought I'd try to ruin it going into halftime," Auriemma joked, "and I did."

After Sunday night's victory over Villanova, Syracuse Coach Quentin Hillsman said that the key to keeping the game close would be to keep center Kayla Alexander out of foul trouble. When the two teams met in Hartford on Jan. 22, UConn won by 22 due in large part to Alexander's foul trouble limiting her to only 11 minutes.

On Monday, Alexander played 34 minutes, scoring 14 points, which makes her the first player in Syracuse women's basketball history to reach 2,000 career points.

"Obviously it made a huge difference," Hillsman said. "You can see it in the outcome. You can see it in our defense and the way she scored in the post. She's a good player. Our best player has to be on the floor for us to have any kind of chance to beat a team like UConn, and tonight it was huge. She required attention – she got 12 free throw attempts – and that was huge for us."

Syracuse outscored UConn 22-18 in the paint on Monday night, and cut the lead to single digits late in the second half before UConn ultimately put the game away.

The stage is now set for the final showdown – the last Big East championship. The two programs that have dominated this conference and have brought back to it a combined eight national championships in 17 combined trips to the Final Four will battle it out for possibly the last time as conference rivals, assuming Notre Dame is able to negotiate a split from the Big East this summer. Despite the national attention on Tuesday night's game, Auriemma has taken to letting others focus on the storylines.

"There's not a whole lot of nostalgia going on in conference realignment," Auriemma said "I don't think anyone goes to the meetings and goes, 'You know, I think for old-time's sake we should do this.' So I don't know that anybody else is paying attention to it. I'm glad we're playing in the game tomorrow night. I'm sure Notre Dame is glad they're playing the game tomorrow night. All the school's that are leaving and some of the other schools probably wish it was somebody else at some point. Seems like it's been us and Notre Dame for a long time. But we're the two best teams in the league, and it's fitting that the two best teams should play."

The championship game will be played at 7 p.m. on Tuesday night and will be aired on ESPN.