After suffering back-to-back losses for the first time this season, UConn got back in the win column with a comfortable 63-51 victory over Butler.
The Bulldogs (5-8, 4-6 Big East) never really went away, but from the 4:07 minute mark in the first half on, Butler never got within single-digits of UConn (7-3, 5-3 Big East).
“I just don’t think this group of guys is getting enough credit for going to a far superior league, one of the best in the country while losing not just our best player [James Bouknight], but one of the best players in the country,” head coach Dan Hurley said. “One of the best, most dynamic players in the country who obviously allows us to take this thing to another level. You lose Andre [Jackson] and Akok [Akok], and these guys are still sitting 5-3, year three of a rebuild while moving way up in competition. So proud of these guys and what they’ve done.”
It was Tyrese Martin who provided the scoring, leading the team with 20 points on 7-of-9 shooting from the field including 2-of-3 from three. He even went 4-of-4 from the charity stripe, something that’s been troublesome for UConn so far this season.
“Tyrese, he was tremendous … if we’re gonna win games in this league, we’re gonna have to have a guy that’s gonna have to have a night like that then a bunch of other contributors,” Hurley said.
Martin, as he usually does, had a well-rounded game aside from scoring, picking up six rebounds, one block, one assist and committing no turnovers.
Isaiah Whaley had himself a really nice game, scoring six points, grabbing five boards and racking up a career-high seven blocks — something that could very well propel him into the top-30 in the country in total blocks and top-20 in blocks per game.
“That was a vintage defense performance against a preseason All-Conference player in [Bryce] Nze,” Hurley said. “We need that type of inspiring play from Isaiah, he’s gotta raise the temperature on the thermostat at the defensive end of the court and bring that type of energy.”
R.J. Cole also had a really solid all-around game, picking up 11 points on 4-of-7 shooting including 1-of-2 from three with four rebounds, five assists and two steals.
The same goes for UConn’s other point guard Jaley Gaffney, who scored six points on 2-of-3 shooting, with both makes coming from three, while also picking up three assists and a steal. Nothing too flashy, but Gaffney quietly finished tied for the highest plus/minus on the team at plus-12.
Tyler Polley also finished with a plus-12, recoding eight points on 3-of-7 shooting including 2-of-4 from three, grabbed four boards and dished out one assist.
As a team UConn shot well, finishing the game shooting 50% from both the field and from three, whereas Butler shot 34% and 33% respectively.
This type of shooting night is really encouraging to see from a UConn team that is coming off its second-worst shooting night in conference play so far, shooting 36.5% from the field three days ago vs. Creighton.
Martin said UConn was playing with something to prove, having fallen out of the top-25 rankings this week.
“We got knocked out the top-25, and we wanted to show and get back to what we do, and show that we’re a top-25 team in the country and we couldn’t afford to lose that game today,” Martin said. “We had to go back to our roots and play our team basketball and team defense, and that’s what we did tonight.”
UConn, who as a team are without the services of Bouknight, Jackson and Akok due to injury, need to have good all-around nights like they did this game if the team is to keep winning.
“Based on the makeup of our roster and what we have not available to us to play, it’s got to be collective,” Hurley said.
Hurley gave some updates on the injury situation the team is facing and said that of the three who are injured, Jackson is the closest to returning. Jackson was shooting around for about an hour after the game, and Hurley said he has a chance to be back vs. St. John’s on Jan. 31. If not, then he has a better chance to play against Seton Hall on Feb. 6.
Akok, who had made a very brief return from his Achilles injury, is looking at more of an 18-month time span (from his original injury) to be a full go, Hurley said, which from now wouldn’t be until after the season is over. However, he did say he has a chance to come back at some point this season and contribute, just not to the level we saw last season.
As for Bouknight, there were no real new updates.
“We’ll see him when we see him,” Hurley said.
UConn has the No. 7 team in the country, Villanova, coming to town on Thursday, in what is set to be an exciting matchup. Tip-off is scheduled for 9 p.m. and the game can be watched on FS1.