STORRS, Conn. -- Just under 12 minutes remained when Jim Calhoun called the timeout. He is the coach of No. 2 Connecticut, and last night, in his team's cozy Gampel Pavilion, he had just spent five minutes watching his unbeaten Huskies get riddled by No. 6 Syracuse.
Lawrence Moten, the Orangemen's brilliant guard, hit four three-pointers in that stretch, and point guard Michael Lloyd hit another. Forward Otis Hill chipped in a layup, and together they had pushed their team to a surprising 58-47 lead with 11:40 to go.
Now, in his team's huddle, Calhoun made the move that would turn this torrid affair between the Big East's marquee teams into an 86-75 victory for UConn. He made it by switching his brilliant swingman, Ray Allen, onto Moten and by putting all his Huskies into a defense they call "The Mask."
Its aims were simple: harass Lloyd with double-teams, make Syracuse's big men handle the ball and keep that ball out of Moten's hands.
"We didn't want any of their guards to have a free handle," Calhoun said.
Said Allen: "We wanted to force Lloyd to find someone else [other than Moten] to score. When we did that, they usually turned it over."
Moten (22 points) got three more shots and made only one. Syracuse hit five of its last 14 shots. And Connecticut, the nation's only unbeaten team, remained perfect at 15-0.
It was a win keyed by Allen, who scored 31, and it lengthened the Huskies' home winning streak to 25. Yet it was a win that was not as impressive as either that streak or the ranking, a win they mottled with some desultory and mysterious play.
Most of that came against Syracuse's 2-3 zone, which UConn spent a half treating as if it were an innovative tactic. The Huskies remained passive against it, did not attack it inside and turned the ball over 18 times in those first 20 minutes.
That defense, plus the scoring of Lloyd (22 points) and John Wallace (17), was why Syracuse led 39-34 at the half. That was also the halftime subject in the UConn locker room.
Less than three minutes later, the Huskies had their first lead, 42-41, on a tip by center Travis Knight. Then Moten exploded, hitting a three from the left wing against a 1-3-1 zone, a three from the left corner against a 2-3 zone, another from the left corner against the man defense of guard Doron Sheffer.
That put Syracuse back on top 50-44 at 14:29, and when Lloyd hit his only three of the night three minutes later, the lead was up to 11 and Calhoun was up calling time. "We talked for two minutes about nothing but defense," he said.
"He got in everybody's face, not just mine," Allen said. "He wanted me to deny Moten the ball, which I knew I had to do. He was the best player on their team. It was my job, and I knew I had a task in front of me. But it's what I live for."
Allen proved that by stifling Moten to game's end while the Huskies crawled back. With 8:10 left, they pulled even at 60. At 6:35, they went ahead for good on a three by Sheffer. Syracuse turned the ball over on four of its next six possessions, and UConn was up by seven at 4:34.
Moten then scored his only basket down the stretch, but that was it for Syracuse.