About 10 minutes before gametime on Saturday, five Huskies were greeted by men’s basketball coach Dan Hurley at half court, walking out with their loved ones in traditional Senior Night style. The group of guys came to Storrs in a variety of ways – RJ Cole and Tyrese Martin by way of the transfer portal, Isaiah Whaley and Tyler Polley via the recruiting class of 2017 and Matt Garry as a walk-on. Despite the varied paths of these five, Hurley spoke very highly of the production and character of his soon-to-be departing seniors.
“These guys, you couldn’t have a better class of guys that have more class and more character … They’ve picked this program up when this thing was a complete disaster, closer to 200 in terms of KenPom quality than 100,” Hurley said. “These guys stayed or transferred in and did the hard work of turning a program around.”
While each has clearly left an impact overall in their coach’s eyes, every one of the five made an impact on yesterday’s game as well. Some left a bigger impact than others, but each of them was able to have their moment in the sun en route to a 75-68 win over DePaul.
Polley started out the night in a special way, starting in his first game since Feb. 10, 2021. While not playing exceptionally well, he had a solid evening, finishing 2-for-6 with eight points and two rebounds. His play of the game was a vintage, smooth three-point make late in the first half.
“It was an easy decision, since Tyler’s played so great and Andre [Jackson, who typically starts in that spot] is such an unselfish guy,” Hurley said postgame.
The other five-year guy on the team, Whaley, introduced as “The Wrench” during his ceremonial walk-out, had another quietly successful evening for the Huskies. He’s never been the top scoring option on this team, but does exactly what the team needs him to do in anchoring the defense and providing an occasional offensive spark. He finished the night with 10 points, six rebounds and a block. Besides the block, his plays of the game were definitely his two flashy dunks, as Whaley hung on the rim both times like a child would a set of monkey bars.
Of all of the players to have an off night, who would have guessed it would be Cole, who has been the definition of consistency this season for UConn. Coming out of the gate cold, Cole finished the day with three points on 1-for-9 shooting and three turnovers to his name. He still was able to make an impact, handling the ball for the majority of the game and drawing charges as always on the other end. His play of the night was to close out the first half, as Cole escaped a double team at half court to somehow find Jackson, who dished it to a wide-open Adama Sanogo under the basket for a quick bucket at the buzzer.
Martin likely had the best night out of all of the Huskies, other than Sanogo. The guard was everywhere on Saturday, finishing the night with 19 points on 7-for-18 shooting and a game-high 16 rebounds. Martin’s impact on the glass is invaluable to the Huskies, and his six offensive boards helped contribute to some of UConn’s 19 second chance points. His play of the night was easily a steal midway through the first half, followed by a smooth euro-step move by a Blue Demon defender. Martin said postgame that there weren’t really a ton of emotions flowing for his last game at Gampel, but he erupted into a hype overload after that play.
There are two key differences between Garry and the rest of the seniors. First, Garry was the only player to have his name chanted, with “We want Garry” crowd calls starting about midway through the second half. The second difference: Garry was the only senior that did not play on Saturday. The walk-on looked like he was going to have his shot after the Huskies took an 18-point lead with under 10 minutes to go, but some late game theatrics from DePaul’s Javon Freeman-Liberty and David Jones pushed the game to within five, forcing Hurley to keep his starters in. While Garry never saw the floor, having a sold-out Gampel Pavilion chanting his name was his defining moment in this one.
“We definitely wanted to keep control of that game so we could get him in, but it obviously didn’t go that way at the end of the game and that’s on us. We owe Matt one for that, because that would have been big to get him in the game,” Martin said postgame.
While it was Senior Night, it may as well have been Sophomore Night too, as second-year Sanogo stole the show with his 26 points on a very efficient 10-for-16 shooting. He also went 6-for-6 from the charity stripe with 11 rebounds before fouling out with a minute remaining. Sanogo was recently named as a finalist for the Kareem-Abdul Jabbar Center of the Year Award, and was certainly proving his worth on that list Saturday, especially coming off of a subpar game against Creighton on Wednesday.
“Yes, that’s definitely why,” Sanogo said about his last game fueling his successes Saturday. “After that Creighton game, we were watching film, and I didn’t like the way I played. Coming into this game, I was mad at myself.”
With this win, UConn officially locks in their spot as the No. 3 seed in the Big East Tournament. Their next game will be their first of the postseason, coming at 9:30 p.m. against either Georgetown or Seton Hall at Madison Square Garden. The contest will be broadcast live on FS1.