UConn's well-balanced effort leads to win over Butler

On the heels of a two-game losing streak, Dan Hurley was looking for a few things from his team on Tuesday night.

He wanted his seniors to step up and play better, in the absence of James Boukight, UConn’s best player and leading scorer. Isaiah Whaley swatted away a career-best seven shots; Tyler Polley knocked down a pair of 3-pointers and had nine points.

He wanted Jalen Gaffney to get more aggressive offensively and play at least 22 minutes. Gaffney knocked down the two 3-pointers he attempted and logged 26 productive minutes.

He wanted the Huskies to start making shots — particularly from short-range, where they were one of the worst shooting teams in the country. UConn scored 13 of its 24 field goals on layups or dunks (four).

Hurley didn’t mention anything about Tyrese Martin, but no one was better than the junior transfer in the Huskies’ 61-49 win over Butler at Gampel Pavilion.

Martin scored 20 points on 7-for-8 shooting, including 2-for-3 on 3s, and snared six rebounds. Another junior transfer, R.J. Cole, added 11 points and five assists, and freshman Adama Sanogo finished with eight points and six boards as the Huskies dominated the final 27 minutes and improved to 8-3 overall and 5-3 in the Big East.

“That’s the template there — strong defensive performance,” Hurley said. “I thought we were better offensively in terms of ball movement. But based on the makeup of our roster and what we have not available to us to play, it’s got to be collective.”

The Huskies used an 18-7 run to close out the first half to take a 38-24 lead into the break. UConn shot 62 percent (16-for-26) from the floor and 67 percent (6-for-9) fro 3 over the first 20 minutes.

UConn was never really threatened in the latter half, ballooning its lead to 17 61/2 minutes into the half. Butler would get to within 10, but the Huskies led 61-43 with 4:03 left and glided to victory.

Butler fell to 5-8 overall, 4-6 in the Big East.

Martin suffered some cramping late in the game, but Hurley said afterwards that the 6-foot-6 swingman was fine.

“He was tremendous,” Hurley said. “I thought, for the most part, he did a really good job on (Aaron) Thompson. He’s a hard guy to guard, because he’s so quick and so strong. That’s probably why he had the cramping today, because he had to guard that kid all over the court.”

Whaley added six points and five rebounds to his career-best day in blocks.

“I really just came in with the mindset of trying to impact the game on defense,” the senior forward said.

“We need that type of inspiring play from Isaiah,” Hurley added. “He’s got to raise the temperature on the thermostat on the defensive end of the court, and bring that type of energy.”

Meanwhile, Josh Carlton added six rebounds, tying Martin and Sanogo for team-high honors in an altogether complete team effort.

“Today was the template,” Hurley added. “We’ve got eight guys we can rotate in there that have got to contribute.”

Now, the Huskies get one day off before No. 3 Villanova comes to Gampel for a 9 p.m. bout on Thursday.

“It was important to get this one,” Hurley said. “Obviously, the Big East chose to move the Villanova game up to just a one-day prep. The scheduling, it’s tough sledding. But that’s where we really had the appropriate level of urgency today. We could ill-afford to lose today’s game. Everybody felt the urgency and the pressure to get this one.”

“We’ll celebrate this win for a couple of hours,” Whaley said, “then we’re right back in the office. We know what Villanova is. We’ve been looking at them for a while. It’s gonna be fun, and I can’t wait to get to work.”

RIM RATTLINGS

 On the injury front, Hurley said that freshman Andre Jackson (wrist) has a chance to play on Sunday at St. John’s. If not then, he’s got a “pretty good chance” to play against Seton Hall on Feb. 6.

The news wasn’t as good on Akok Akok, who missed his second straight game with a bruised shin, and James Bouknight.

Hurley said Akok probably won’t be closer to his old self until the “18-month range” from his February, 2020 Achilles surgery.

As for Bouknight: “I can’t tell you where that is right now. That’s just running its course. We’ll see him when we see him.”

 UConn released some more future tip times. Feb. 6 vs. Seton Hall at noon, Fe. 10 at Providence at 9 p.m. and Feb. 13 at Xavier at noon.

david.borges@hearstmediact.com