In a game that wasn’t particularly close, no. 25 UConn (12-4, 3-2) dominated Butler (9-8, 204) end to end, earning a 76-59 victory in the first of two games between the two teams this week.
This was one of the Huskies' most balanced efforts of the season. While the offense lacked rhythm at times and missed quite a few open shots, UConn buried the Bulldogs with suffocating defense and smart offensive execution. RJ Cole led all scorers with 17 points and Sanogo dominated down low with 13 points and 15 boards. Joining Sanogo and Cole in double figures were Jackson (13), Polley (10), and Hawkins (14).
The Husky offense looked a little rusty early; they mostly had good looks but they weren’t falling. UConn started the game 1-10 from the floor, but great rebounding and 5-5 shooting from the charity stripe kept them afloat.
UConn lived up to its reputation by making Butler’s life a living hell defensively. Their length was way too much for the Bulldogs to handle, forcing very difficult shots on nearly every possession and swatting five in the first half. If not for freshman guard Simas Lukosius’ (4.5 points per game) 10 heroic first-half points, the Huskies would’ve been up even more at the half. Even so, they were up 15 at the break, 39-24.
Butler senior forward Bryce Nze and Lukosius were a combined 7-10 from the floor in the first half. The rest of the team was 1-20. That’s defensive domination.
UConn had multiple transition opportunities throughout the game created by the defense, with perhaps the greatest one being this first-half fast break from Jackson -> Gaffney -> Akok who threw down the alley-oop. Poetry in motion.
Andre Jackson hit three first-half threes and Tyler Polley scored all of his ten points in the first twenty minutes. Jackson now leads the Huskies in three-point percentage after shooting 2-17 from long range his freshman year.
UConn carried this momentum into the second period at the XL Center. A huge Akok rejection led to another transition opportunity and a Sanogo jam that forced head coach LaVall Jordan to call a timeout less than two minutes in.
In an effort to try to inject some life into the non-existent half-court offense, Butler came out of this timeout running and gunning more, trying to get the Huskies out of position by pushing the pace and hoping to hit UConn with a taste of its own medicine. This was far from Butler’s comfort zone, but they were able to hang around for large portions of the second half by drawing fouls on UConn. Butler entered the bonus about eight minutes into the half.
UConn held on to a comfortable double-digit cushion throughout the second half. Deep bench players Rahsool Diggins, Samson Johnson, and Richie Springs even got a couple of minutes of action.
Perhaps the most emblematic sign that it was not Butler’s night was a possession where UConn was struggling to get anything going deep in the shot clock. Butler had played one of its best defensive possessions all game, cutting off post-entry looks and playing lockdown man-to-man on the perimeter. But Jalen Gaffney gives it up to Cole at the top of the key with 2 seconds on the shot clock. Cole realizes, takes one dribble, and launches a ridiculous off-balance fadeaway three-pointer that banks in as the shot clock expired. The ball may have been on the tip of Cole’s fingers as the shot clock hit zero, but UConn was awarded the basket after review.
While this performance wasn’t perfect by any means, UConn should come away feeling good about taking care of business fairly easily at home against an inferior opponent and also covering the KenPom spread.
Next up, the Huskies are heading to Indianapolis to play Butler again on Thursday. The game tips off at 9:00 p.m. ET and will be aired on FoxSports1.