Cincinnati's Sean Kilpatrick (23) shoots over Syracuse's Brandon Triche during...

Cincinnati's Sean Kilpatrick (23) shoots over Syracuse's Brandon Triche during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in the semifinals of the Big East Conference tournament. (March 9, 2012) Credit: AP

It's losing to Cincinnati, 71-68, in the Big East Tournament semifinals Friday night that bothered Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim the most Friday night at Madison Square Garden. As he noted, winning the conference tournament isn't important in the big picture.

"Most national titles have been won by teams that lost their conference tournament, including us," Boeheim said. "The tournament next week is the one that matters."

What bothered Boeheim was the way the No. 2 Orange (31-2), top seed in this tournament, suffered only its second loss of the season. He described their play as "spotty" over the final 10 games of the regular season but said winning covered it up.

Then Boeheim, speaking in a quiet, analytical voice, lowered the boom on senior leaders Kris Joseph and Scoop Jardine, who combined to commit nine of Syracuse's 15 turnovers. Jardine had only six points and two assists, and Joseph just nine points and a big fat zero in the rebound column. They let sophomore Dion Waiters carry the load with 28 points off the bench, including 7-for-10 from three-point range.

"When we've played well, Scoop and Kris have been very good," Boeheim began. "Kris just wasn't there tonight . . . Scoop wasn't there for us. The two seniors have to take us forward. We won 31 games with Scoop and Kris setting the tone."

Cincinnati (23-9) moves on to the championship game Saturday at 9 p.m. against Louisville (25-9). The Bearcats got 18 points apiece from Yancy Gates and Sean Kilpatrick and 11 each from Dion Dixon and Cashmere Wright. They came out of the gate on fire, making eight of their first 10 three-pointers to build a 34-17 lead near the end of the first half.

From that point, they cooled off considerably, missing their next eight threes while Gates powered inside to protect the lead. But Kilpatrick stepped up and hit a three after Syracuse pulled within five at 55-50, and Kilpatrick came out of a timeout to bury another from the left corner with 1:46 to play to seemingly put the game out of reach at 65-55.

"Coach told me to go to the corner," Kilpatrick said of the Bearcats' Mick Cronin. "Joseph played 'Cash,' and I was wide open."

Amazingly enough, Syracuse came back to cut its deficit to 68-66 on a Waiters three with 17.1 seconds to play. The Orange fouled JaQuon Parker, who made only one of two with 15.6 seconds left.

Cincinnati then fouled Waiters with six seconds left before he could launch another three. He made the first free throw, and though he planned to miss the second and hope for a rebound, it went in to make it a one-point game.

This time, the Bearcats threw it over the Syracuse press, and Justin Jackson drove for a wide-open dunk with a second left to clinch the win.

On the magnitude of the upset, Bearcats coach Mick Cronin said: "You need it all against Syracuse. They're arguably the best in the country. Maybe the coaches will give us a vote in the also-rans in their poll."


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