STORRS - The last thing the UConn men‚Äôs basketball team needs is another injured player. So when junior Tyrese Martin hobbled to the bench late in Tuesday‚Äôs game against Butler and called for the assistance of trainer James Doran, Husky fans could be forgiven for a moment of panic.
As it turns out, Martin was just experiencing some cramping his right thigh, a painful predicament perhaps, but not likely a lingering issue.
And the best part, according to UConn coach Dan Hurley? Martin‚Äôs leg was bothering him because he had spent much of the game helping limit Jair Bolden, Butler‚Äôs leading scorer, to just seven points on 3-for-12 shooting.
‚ÄúThat‚Äôs probably why he had the cramping today. It took a lot out of him physically to guard that kid all over the court,‚ÄĚ Hurley said after the Huskies‚Äô 63-51 victory Tuesday night at Gampel Pavilion.
Yes, Martin scored a game-high 20 points, his fifth-straight game scoring in double figures, but it was the 6-foot-6 wing‚Äôs defensive effort that Hurley extolled.
And it was Martin‚Äôs focus from the outset of the game, he says.
‚ÄúCoach said I had terrible games on defense these past couple games,‚ÄĚ Martin said. ‚ÄúThat was my main focus, try to guard at my best.‚ÄĚ
The Huskies were in the midst of a two-game losing streak with No. 3 Villanova headed to town for a Thursday night clash. They could ill afford to let Tuesday‚Äôs game slip away.
‚ÄúEveryone felt the urgency and the pressure,‚ÄĚ Hurley said.
Said Martin: ‚ÄúWe just basically said ‚ÄėWe‚Äôve had enough. We don‚Äôt want to lose anymore.‚Äô ‚ÄĚ
So the Huskies turned to defense. It wasn‚Äôt quite the kind of stifling pressure that made this same Butler program look inept in the 2011 national championship game - though the score at one point Tuesday night was 53-41, same as the final score from that title game in Houston 11 years ago - but UConn allowed the Bulldogs to hit only 34 percent of their shots on Tuesday.
In addition to Bolden‚Äôs poor line, teammate Bryce Nze was 1-for-11 from the field.
Butler big man Bryce Golden entered Tuesday‚Äôs game having missed 17 of the 18 shots he had taken from beyond the 3-point arc this season. But the 6-foot-9, 260-pound junior connected on five of his seven attempts Tuesday to score a team-high 19 points.
If not for that possible statistical anomaly, the Huskies might have won by two dozen points.
‚ÄúThe group did a better job of picking each other up when they were struggling at the offensive end to play with passion at the defensive end,‚ÄĚ Hurley said.
As solid as Martin was on defense, UConn forward Isaiah Whaley may have one-upped his teammate. Whaley blocked a career-high seven shots, and the Huskies had nine blocks as a team.
‚ÄúLast time we played them they had some easy layups. I just wanted to impact the game on that side,‚ÄĚ Whaley said.
UConn is 8-3 overall and 5-3 in Big East play. Not bad, considering it has played the last five games without superstar James Bouknight.
The Huskies also played without freshman Andre Jackson and sophomore Akok Akok on Tuesday, though the latter could be back in action this weekend.
‚ÄúThe culture that we have here is much improved. Obviously there‚Äôs an expectation that UConn is supposed to win now again when we take the court,‚ÄĚ Hurley said.
Without Bouknight, it‚Äôs fallen to Martin, R.J. Cole and Tyler Polley to try and carry the Huskies offensively. But it‚Äôs clear that only a team effort, especially on defense, is going to work for the Huskies as they are currently constituted.
The mix of contributions from everyone who entered the game - center Josh Carlton had six rebounds and a thunderous dunk in 10 solid minutes, while point guard Jalen Gaffney was much better than he has been lately with six points and three assists in 27 very steady minutes - is what Hurley would like to see every time out.
‚ÄúToday was the template. We‚Äôve got eight guys that we can rotate in there that have got to contribute,‚ÄĚ Hurley said.
Each man is even allowed a brief respite if they experience a cramp, as long as it stems from defensive contributions.