It’s never easy to beat a team twice, but UConn men’s basketball just did just that. The Huskies comfortably picked up a pair of wins, defeating Butler 76-59 on Tuesday at the XL Center before beating the Bulldogs 75-56 Thursday night.
While the two games had two very different energies, it was encouraging to see the Huskies take care of business under the unusual circumstances of playing the same team twice in three days.
Two wins, achieved in different ways
On Tuesday, UConn wasted no time getting out ahead of the Bulldogs and using its size and skill advantage to build a lead and never look back. While Butler is one of the lesser teams in the Big East, it was good to see the Huskies dominate from start to finish.
Thursday night was a different story. UConn started out a little flat, and Butler clearly took the time following Tuesday’s game to review the tape and make some adjustments. While the Huskies struggled to score for most of the first half, shooting just under 30 percent from the floor, strong play from Adama Sanogo and Isaiah Whaley on both ends kept things close, with UConn down just four at the half.
Then, thanks to an absolutely nuclear half from Tyrese Martin, the Huskies came alive, regained the lead, and pulled away to make it a relatively comfortable win. It’s hard to evaluate that first half of Thursday’s game — UConn got good shots mostly and they just didn't go in— but it was good to see that Dan Hurley and the team adjusted and came out stronger in the second half to avoid a bad loss on the road.
Another Adama Sanogo appreciation post
Sanogo has been impressive all season, but he’s certainly having the best stretch of his young career so far right now. The sophomore fell just short of a fourth straight double-double on Thursday with a 15-point, nine-rebound game, but torched the Bulldogs for 13 points and 15 boards on Tuesday. He also swatted seven Butler shots over the past two games.
We’ve seen how high Sanogo’s potential is with his performances against Auburn and St. John’s this season. But in these last four games, Sanogo has evolved into a reliable and dominant big man that is deservedly becoming the centerpiece of this UConn team. His growth on the defensive end improves an already solid unit and gives Dan Hurley another elite shot-blocker alongside Whaley and Akok Akok.
Tyrese Martin snaps out of his funk
Martin hasn’t really looked like himself ever since the Huskies came back from his COVID-19 pause. He’s had flashes of solid play, including some big shots against Seton Hall and St. John’s, but wasn’t consistently bringing the physicality on both ends that he is usually known for. For 60 of the Huskies’ 80 minutes against Butler this week, that generally remained true — through Tuesday’s game and the first half of Thursday, Martin had a total of five points. That changed in a hurry in the second half Thursday night, as Martin scored 25 points in the second half alone to almost singlehandedly lead UConn to victory. Through the final 20 minutes, Butler just barely outscored Martin, 28-25.
With the emergence of Sanogo and the shot-making ability of RJ Cole, Martin doesn’t have to score 20 points a game for this team to win. But if he can be a consistent scorer like he was early this season and towards the end of last year, it should open up shots for the rest of the team. Outside of Cole and Jalen Gaffney, Martin is one of the only other players that can consistently create their own shot, and Martin’s post up game makes him a nightmare to defend for teams with small backcourts. Throw in his physicality and elite rebounding ability, and a scorching hot Martin could be the difference-maker this team needs to make a deep run in March.