By Zach Berman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 22, 2010; D05
BUFFALO -- After Kansas was improbably eliminated from the NCAA tournament on Saturday, Syracuse's players knew attention would come their way. The top-seeded Orange will need to get used to it, especially after its dominating 87-65 victory Sunday over eighth-seeded Gonzaga in the West Region second round.
"As well as we played all year," Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim told Gonzaga Coach Mark Few during the postgame handshake. The Orange connected on 54.7 percent of its field goals, 48 percent of its three-pointers and led by 32 points. It scored the most points against Gonzaga since Dec. 12.
"I think there's other games we played really well against lower-level competition," sophomore Kris Joseph said, "but this was a great game because Gonzaga was a good team. On defense, we were all in sync. And on offense, we got about five, six passes before we got a shot off. That's what's going to define our team, and that's what we have to be the rest of the season."
The Orange advanced to a region semifinal matchup against Butler in Salt Lake City on Thursday. Boeheim praised Butler after Sunday's win, revealing that he's kept the Bulldogs in the top 10 of his coaches' poll ballot throughout the season.
Syracuse's roster could be bolstered by the addition of center Arinze Onuaku, who missed his second tournament game with a right quadriceps injury. The Orange still thrived without him, getting a career-high 31 points and 14 rebounds from forward Wes Johnson along with 24 points from senior guard Andy Rautins.
"When I hit the first shot, I felt I was in a zone," said Johnson, who averaged 24.5 points and 10 rebounds in the two games in Buffalo.
Johnson said the team was intent on avoiding an upset, especially after the first three days of the tournament, and were particularly focused after Kansas's early exit. Boeheim pointed to the Jayhawks' loss as an indication of the current state of college basketball, saying it was evidence that a team can ill afford to have a bad game -- particularly in March.
"I've been doing the same thing for 34 years. I don't know, some teams react better," Boeheim said. "But there can be upsets. The problem with college basketball is there's not a big gap. Everybody wants to make it seem like it's a big gap. It's not a big gap. If you don't play well, whoever it is you're playing can beat you."
Syracuse ensured that would not happen against Gonzaga, going on a 9-0 run at one point in the first half and a 15-2 run later in the half to help cement a 15-point halftime advantage. Rautins scored eight points in the first two minutes of the second half to extend the lead, and the Orange never retreated.
Boeheim said Syracuse is a different team without Onuaku in the lineup and was not pleased with the 38 points the Orange allowed in the paint. He credited guards Scoop Jardine and Brandon Triche for helping to carry the offense, and said Syracuse is a hard team to beat if an opponent struggles with outside shooting. Gonzaga made only 3 of 21 three-pointers.
As the Orange turns its attention to Butler, the challenge becomes greater. The team will receive more attention, and the Orange will be forced to leave the familiar confines of Upstate New York. Boeheim was also concerned about the quick turnaround -- Syracuse goes from playing Sunday to Thursday -- and as Kansas learned on Saturday, upsets can sneak up on a top-seeded team at any time.
"We don't have to do anything other than play the way we've been playing," Boeheim said. "That's what we've done all year. We played good from the first game, and we've got to continue to do that."