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UConn men’s basketball rights ship with win over Tulane, 67-61

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Tyler Polley broke out with 19 points and a career-high 11 rebounds.

After starting 0-2 in conference play for the fourth-straight season, all of the chips were on the table tonight for UConn men’s hoops. The Huskies responded with a 67-61 win against the Tulane Green Wave, thanks to breakout performance from Tyler Polley. The junior poured in 19 points and grabbed a career-high 11 rebounds, the first double-double of his career.

It was a balanced effort overall for UConn, with senior Christian Vital (14), Alterique Gilbert (10), and junior Josh Carlton (10) joining Polley in double figures. Vital passed UConn legend Emeka Okafor for 21nd on the Husky all-time scoring list.

The Huskies crashed the offensive glass with a vigor not seen in years, collecting 18 offensive boards and outrebounding the Green Wave, 46-29.

The key to unlocking a match-up zone is to move the ball vertically. The Huskies did a good job of getting Carlton into position on the block, with the struggling junior notching six early points. UConn couldn’t find answer for Tulane’s K.J. Lawson and Teshaun Hightower though, and was locked in a back-and-forth contest to start.

A nicely drawn-up alley-oop from Gilbert to Bouknight woke the relatively sparse crowd up a bit and fueled a 10-0 run. Tyler Polley showed he’s not just a one-trick pony, getting to the rim a few times and snatching five rebounds. A beautiful scoop-and-score from Gilbert ended the half with the Huskies up seven, their largest lead of the game.

At the break, Jon Rothstein asked Hurley what he’s looking for amid this sputtering conference start: “It’s all about us playing to our identity; toughness, grit, and being a good defensive team.”

UConn built on its momentum and quickly pushed its lead into double-digits out of the break. Once more there was an emphasis on feeding Carlton down low, and all that attention on the big man opened up driving lanes for Gilbert.

The Huskies were up 13 with 15 minutes to play, but two Tulane threes triggered a 10-0 run, and UConn’s inability to sustain good offense reared its ugly head again. Hurley opted for a small-ball lineup of Akok-Adams-Polley-Bouknight-Gilbert, resulting in a big dunk and a three-point-play from Bouknight stopped the bleeding.

Polley continued to flash as an inside-out threat, with a renewed aggression on the glass. Tulane went four minutes without a basket, and still found itself down only six with 3:38 to play. But Polley, having a career night, gave the Huskies more big plays down the stretch. Despite shooting 36.4% from the field in the second half, UConn held off a better-than-usual Tulane team for a win it really needed.

Both upper and underclassmen made big plays today, Polley and Bouknight in particular. UConn had never lost to Tulane, but the way the Huskies started AAC play — combined with Ron Hunter’s transfer-laden talent — Husky fans were understandably on pins and needles heading into today. Beyond serving as a palate cleanser, it was absolutely critical that the Huskies won tonight considering their daunting upcoming schedule. Wichita St, Villanova, and Houston await, the latter two games on the road.

The Huskies take on the Shockers on Sunday, Jan. 12 p.m on CBSSN.