Polley becoming surprise star for UConn men's basketball

Published on Thursday, 7 January 2021 20:50
Written by NEILL OSTROUT

JOURNAL INQUIRER

To say Tyler Polley’s amazing performance Tuesday night came out of nowhere is a bit of stretch.

After all, the UConn senior has long been a capable shooter, and had hit five 3-pointers in a game multiple times as a Husky.

Still, Polley’s 23-point explosion in the second half against Marquette, which fueled a furious rally that saw UConn come from 18 points down with 16 minutes to play and led to an improbable 65-54 Husky win, was one of the more unexpected and impressive outbursts in school history.

Few were happier than Polley’s teammates and coaches after he directed a run that saw the Huskies score 42 of the game’s final 55 points.

“Any time one of the good guys delivers on that level … it’s awesome,” UConn coach Dan Hurley said. “Couldn’t happen to a better guy.”

Polley, who had played somewhat sparingly this season and not at all against Creighton because he was still following COVID protocols, hit five 3-pointers and scored all of his 23 points in the second half Tuesday.

That came despite the fact that the 6-foot-9 senior had scored a total of 19 points in the four games he appeared in this season prior to facing Marquette. Despite the fact that he had only hit the 20-point mark in a game one time previously in his four-year UConn career. And despite the fact that he spent a good portion of the last eight months recovering from a torn ACL.

“It’s been a tough road, just dealing with a lot mentally and physically,” Polley said. “Then dealing with the (COVID) protocol and missing the Creighton game and being out for so long.”

As much as Hurley has praised Polley’s work ethic and attitude in practice during the difficult stretch, few could have seen his outburst coming. But UConn (5-1, 2-1 Big East) couldn’t rely on star James Bouknight, who hurt his left elbow in the game and had a difficult shooting night, so the door was at least open for another Husky.

Polley’s total didn’t come too close to the school record for points scored by a non-starter, which Rashad Anderson set when he scored 33 in a win over Morehead State Dec. 23, 2005.

It also didn’t threaten Tony Hanson’s UConn record for points in a half, which came when he scored 32 in the second half against Vermont Feb. 19, 1977.

But Anderson’s effort, as many on that list, came in a blowout victory. And Hanson’s came in a loss.

Polley’s effort was more akin to Kemba Walker’s 29-point second-half outburst against Wichita State in the 2010 Maui Invitational. The Huskies ended up somehow winning by double digits but in truth they probably needed each and every one of the shots Polley made if they were going to prevail Tuesday.

Polley wasn’t sure he was going to provide such a performance for his team prior to the game or early in the action. But as his shots in the second half continued to fall, he admitted he felt like he couldn’t miss.

“After my first one I’m like ‘OK, I feel good.’ Then I got a layup and I was like ‘Alright, alright.’ Then I got the and-1 in transition and I was like ‘Yeah, I’m feeling it,’ ” Polley said.

Hurley was among those feeling pride after each shot connected.

“Tyler’s as good a guy as you’ll ever coach. I don’t think he’s got a bad bone in his body. He’s like the best gentlemen and the most diligent worker. Just a guy that will never have an issue with another human being,” Hurley said.

Of course, being so amenable doesn’t always translate to good basketball. Hurley had been trying to get Polley to be a little rougher on the court.

“On the court he has to find an alter ego,” Hurley said.

That alter ego even has a name. The coaches and players refer to Polley as “Swaggy T” when he starts getting into a rhythm.

UConn, which will swagger into Indianapolis for a game Saturday against Butler, hopes that guy shows up again soon.



Posted in The Bristol Press, UConn on Thursday, 7 January 2021 20:50. Updated: Thursday, 7 January 2021 20:52.