No. 25 UConn makes quick work of Butler, rolling to 76-59 Big East win
Hartford — UConn has engaged in its share of tug-of-wars this season, with the outcome often in doubt until the final frantic minutes.
Prior to Tuesday's Big East game, the Huskies already played four overtime games and had nine decided by single digits.
Finally, the 25th-ranked Huskies seized the upper hand early and never let go of the rope.
A comfortable 76-59 win over Butler at the XL Center was just what UConn needed. It was the largest margin of victory in a Big East game this season for the Huskies, who improved to 12-4 overall, 3-2 in the league.
UConn and Butler (9-8, 2-4) play again in Indianapolis Thursday night. The Bulldogs have lost four of their last five.
"Happy to get the win," coach Dan Hurley said. "Any win in this league is a great win. ... Played well enough to win comfortably and did some good things. But we're going to have enough ammunition when we break this thing down and travel to Indiana tomorrow when I'm going to have this group's full attention, because we could have played better, particularly finishing at the rim.
" We just missed so many shots at the rim, it was frustrating at times. But we played really, really hard."
There were several positives that came out of the game.
The Huskies received strong contributions from some members of the supporting cast, including Tyler Polley (10 points) and Jordan Hawkins (14).
Hawkins showed signs of coming out of a prolonged shooting funk. After making just six of 30 from the field in the previous six games, he converted five of nine attempts and hit double digits for the first time since Dec. 11 against St. Bonaventure.
Reserves accounted for 31 points.
"To get the 17 minutes, to produce, to have some good moments, that's big for Jordan," Hurley said. "Bench production is what gives us a chance to be a potential contender in this league. If we're not getting that type of production, then we're not as formidable.
"I love what Tyler is doing for us and getting Jordan going would be huge just to have those two wing weapons on the bench."
Sophomore Andre Jackson (12 points, 10 rebounds) continued to show off his improved jump shot, hitting double figures for a career-best fourth straight game. It was his first career double-double.
"The double-double is nice, but I think I've got to be more of a defensive presence," Jackson said.
Steady point guard R.J. Cole finished with a team-best 17 points. Sophomore Adama Sanogo continued his recent, chipping in 13 points and 15 rebounds for his third straight double-double and adding four blocks despite being "off a tick," according to Hurley.
And UConn's tenacious defense limited Butler to an icy 30.5 percent from the field. The Huskies also blocked 10 shots.
The Huskies were in command from the start, surging in front for good three and a half minutes in, leading 39-24 at the break — their biggest halftime advantage this season in a Big East game — and maintaining a double digit edge the entire second half.
The game pitted the Big East's top defensive team in UConn against the league's worst offensive team in Butler, which came in averaging 62.6 points.
Both teams started cold, going a combined 2 for 13 from the field.
One big difference on the offensive end: UConn found a way to get to the foul line, Butler didn't.
Cole drained eight of nine free throws to give the Huskies a 12-4 edge.
UConn used a full-court defense to help force Butler into five early turnovers. The Bulldogs went almost four and a half minutes without a point and converted just 8 for 30 in the first half.
The Huskies gradually built a double-digit edge with help from Hawkins and Polley who combined for 15 points by intermission. Those contributions were important because three starters — Martin, Sanogo and Whaley — spent time on the bench due to foul trouble.
"It's good to see guys come in and play well to back up the guys that start the game for us," Cole said. "That's the strength of our team. We've been talking about depth all year. Finally, it's starting to click for some of our guys off the bench."
Jackson heated up, sinking consecutive 3-pointers to hand UConn a 31-16 edge. He went three for four from beyond the arc, improving to 13 for 25 on the season.
The Huskies headed into halftime in a good spot.
Their lead grew to as many as 21 (66-45) in the second half, allowing coach Dan Hurley to empty his bench and put in Samson Johnson, Richie Springs and Rahsool Diggins.
It's a quick turnaround for both teams.
Butler expects to play better at home on Thursday.
"We'll see them again on Thursday," Butler coach LaVall Jordan said. "I asked Danny if they wanted to hop on the plane with us, but he turned that down. We'll just turn around and make some adjustments and get ready to battle."