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UConn men roll by Butler, 63-51

Two straight losses and tumbling out of the top 25 put UConn in a sour mood entering Tuesday's Big East game.

"We had enough," junior Tyrese Martin said. "We didn't want to lose anymore."

UConn responded by posting a comfortable 63-51 victory over Butler at Gampel Pavilion.

Taking control early on and leading by as many as 19 points, the Huskies rode an efficient offense and punishing defense to victory. They improved to 8-3 overall, 5-3 in the Big East, and swept the season series with the Bulldogs (5-8, 4-6).

Martin, a physically and mentally tough guard, scored a game-high 20 points, grabbed six rebounds and also played stellar defense.

Leg cramps were on the only thing that could slow Martin down. Martin also had some help from his teammates, as six different Huskies scored at least six points to power a balanced attack. Redshirt junior R.J. Cole chipped in 11 points and five assists while freshman Adama Sanogo added eight points and six rebounds.

"Tyrese was tremendous...," coach Dan Hurley said. "If we're going to win games in this league, we're going to have a guy that's going to have a night like that and then a bunch of other contributors.

"... 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 are down to only eight healthy players in their regular rotation. They played their fifth game in a row without leading scorer James Bouknight (elbow) while reserve Akok Akok (shin) sat out his second straight game. Freshman Andre Jackson (broken bone in left wrist) could return to action on Sunday against St. John's. He hasn't played since Dec. 20.

But they've still managed to avoid a long losing streak despite the adversity.

"I'm proud of these guys," Hurley said. "These guys have done a helluva job. An absolute helluva job. We could have a couple more wins if we made free throws, or if we finished at the rim better. We could potentially be sitting at 10-1 right now, which is crazy."

On Tuesday, UConn regained its defensive edge that it lacked during the two-game losing streak, limiting Butler to just 34.5 percent from the field.

Senior Isaiah Whaley was a defensive pest, blocking a career-high seven points to go with six points and five rebounds.

"I really just came in with the mindset of just trying to impact the game on defense and just try to cause as much havoc as I can," Whaley said.

Mission accomplished.

The Huskies got off to a fast start, playing hard at both ends of the court.

Senior Tyler Polley (eight points) came off the bench firing away. His pull-up jumper put UConn ahead for good at 10-8. The Huskies gradually built a double digit lead.

Sinking 14 of their first 23 shots, they finished the first half converting a sizzling 61.5 percent. They shot 50 percent overall, only the second time they've hit that mark this season.

"Last game against Creighton, we missed a lot of easy ones and a lot of bunnies," Whaley said. "But we just got out there in practice and kept working. Every day we're just getting better. We're down on players right now but we just keep working hard with each other."

The Bulldogs, on the other hand, made just eight of 27 (29.6 percent) before intermission and never heated up.

UConn kept the pressure on in the second half. Sanogo's basket handed the Huskies their biggest lead, 60-41, with just under six minutes left.

The Huskies were in a far better mood walking off the court than after Saturday's loss at Creighton.

"We got knocked out of the top 25 and we wanted to get back to what we do...," Martin said. "We couldn't afford to lose that game, so we had to go back to our roots and play team basketball and team defense and that's what we did."

With a showdown with No. 3 Villanova looming on Thursday in Storrs, UConn desperately needed to beat Butler.

"It was important to get this one...," Hurley said. "We had the appropriate level of urgency because we could ill-afford to lose today's game. Everyone felt the urgency and pressure to get this one."

g.keefe@theday.com

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