The UConn men’s basketball team will host the Butler Bulldogs at Gampel Pavilion on Tuesday night at 8:30 p.m. The game will be broadcast on FS1.
It will be the second meeting between the Huskies (7-3, 4-3 Big East) and the Bulldogs (5-7, 4-5 Big East) this season. UConn won the first matchup 72-60 in Indianapolis on Jan. 9. However, the teams are in much different spots now.
“We were coming in on a high [in the last matchup], and we’ve kinda flipped spots with them,” head coach Dan Hurley said at his Monday press availability. “They’ve come in off of two in a row, the great win against Creighton and then the win at DePaul where they played lights-out. We’re coming into it having lost two in a row, so it’s kind of the flip of the script with the first game when we were riding high and they were struggling coming in.”
The Huskies went into that last game with DePaul fresh off the 18-point comeback against Marquette, but this time, their most recent memory is a tough loss to Creighton on Saturday. Meanwhile, Butler actually beat Creighton, who was ranked No. 8 in the country at the time, 70-66 in overtime on Jan. 16, in one of the more impressive Big East upsets this season. Even though they haven’t played in a week since the DePaul game because of a postponement against Seton Hall, the Bulldogs have to be feeling pretty good coming into this game against UConn.
UConn, however, has some things to figure out. The first Butler matchup was the first game without James Bouknight, and the Huskies seemed to handle it well. But in the past two losses, Bouknight’s absence has really been obvious on the offensive end. So Hurley said the key is getting back to where they were on the three-game road trip, where they won without him.
“I think [playing without Bouknight] has had a little bit of a psychological effect on the team just from a confidence standpoint,” Hurley said. “But the best stretch of winning we’ve had in years here of winning three straight away from Connecticut was Marquette and Butler and DePaul on the road. That’s been our best stretch, and [Bouknight] didn’t play [for most of it] … We’ve gotta find a way to rally around that.”
It’s not going to be easy, but if the Huskies are going to snap this two-game skid, they need more from a bunch of guys. Hurley said he wants more from R.J. Cole, especially in terms of leadership and energy. He also said he needs Josh Carlton to be more of a contributor off the bench and much better defense from Tyler Polley. Most of all though, Hurley wants more from Isaiah Whaley.
“Isaiah’s got to be better,” Hurley said. “With the people that we have out, we need all-conference level play from Isaiah or else we’re going to have a very hard time winning. We need double-figure points, we need close to double-figure rebounds and we need a monster defensively. He’s been okay, but he hasn’t been what we need him to be with what we’re dealing with with the injuries.”
Aside from Bouknight, freshman Andre Jackson will still be out with his broken wrist, and it seems like Akok Akok could miss another game with a bruised shin, considering Hurley said he’s only had nine players available for practice the last couple of days.
“I think [playing without bouknight] has had a little bit of a psychological effect on the team just from a confidence standpoint.”
Hurley said he has tasked Cole and Whaley with being the emotional leaders on the floor to energize their teammates in a way Hurley himself can’t do on the sideline. He emphasized that he’s trying to make this “more of a player-led team than a coach-led team.” We’ll see if that creates better results against Butler.