It was UConn’s first game experiencing life without James Bouknight — who didn’t play after injuring his arm a few days ago against Marquette — so the Huskies needed someone else to step up and provide the scoring.
They got it from a couple of places, but none more than Tyler Polley, who helped propel UConn (6-1, 3-1 Big East) to a 72-60 win over Butler (3-6, 2-4 Big East).
UConn head coach Dan Hurley said the break was like “beautiful self-care” for Polley, and now that they’re back, “if he can get it off, he probably should shoot it.”
Polley scored a game-high 19 points on 5-of-10 shooting off the bench. All five makes were on eight attempts from three, and he also was a perfect 4-for-4 from the charity stripe. Polley has been absolutely on fire lately from three, as he’s now shot 5-for-8 from beyond the arc in back-to-back games.
“I’ve embraced my role on the team,” Polley said. “Just to be that hot hand, to come out firing off the bench, I love it. Can’t ask for anything more.”
Tyrese Martin was right behind Polley with 15 points on 5-of-12 shooting, including 3-of-4 from three. As usual, he also made an impact in the rebounding department, as he was tied for the team lead with seven, three of which were offensive.
His impact on the offensive glass cannot be understated, and a perfect example of this came with about five minutes up left in regulation. After Polley missed a three, Martin contested the rebound, and while he didn’t get it, he forced it out of bounds on Butler. On UConn’s ensuing extra possession that Martin caused, the Huskies got two points on two made Polley free throws.
In addition to Polley and Martin, Isaiah Whaley also had a really solid day, especially on the defensive end. He finished the game with three blocks (UConn’s only three blocks of the game) and two steals, tied for the team-high. Two of those blocks came in the final five minutes of regulation, playing a key part in keeping Butler to what was really just five points in the final five minutes before the Bulldogs tacked on another five more when the game was already all but over.
On the scoring end Whaley still put up nine points on 4-of-7 shooting, including a make from three in the final minute of the game. He was one of five players to score at least seven points, with Polley (19), Martin (15), Brendan Adams (9) and R.J. Cole (7) all reaching that mark.
Saturday was also the return of Akok Akok, who played in his first game since February.
“[It was an] emotional lift for all of us,” Hurley said. “I think losing James, Akok just being welcomed back was a nice lift for everyone.”
Hurley said Akok has some rust to “knock off” after a year out of play, and that he “needs to get his timing back” but that he’ll be on the court more.
“We’ve got a real balancing act right now because we need him on the court more, and we need to grow his role with this team, it’s only gonna make him better,” Hurley said. “It’s a fine line in terms of fitting him into the rotation right now, but we’ll grow his role hopefully with every game.”
Even though he only played six minutes and shot 1-of-2 from the floor, it was an encouraging sight to see him take the court after suffering a ruptured left Achilles tendon about 11 months ago.
“It was a great moment in my career. Special day, I’ve been waiting for this for a long time,” Akok said. “There were a lot of nerves in the air, first game back, a lot of jitters and stuff. As soon as I got in the game, I got over it. Made that splash play, cut to the rim to the dunk, that really started things off. I want to use this as a game under my belt.”
UConn’s next scheduled contest will be an away game on Monday, Jan. 11 against DePaul.
This story was updated to correct an inaccuracy at 11:37 p.m. on Jan. 9.