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With The Splint Removed, Butler Producing For UConn. Story by Rich Elliott.

POSTED January 22, 2016
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By Rich Elliott

This story sponsored by Jim Pescatore Home Improvement.

HARTFORD – It was a moment UConn sophomore Natalie Butler had been waiting for for weeks.

It was bad enough that Butler was forced to miss the first 10 games this season after undergoing surgery to repair a torn ligament in her left thumb Oct. 26. But when she finally returned to the court for the top-ranked Huskies, she was required to wear a splint on her thumb.

Butler was not herself. Playing with a splint felt strange and it took some getting used to on her part. This week, though, everything has changed. Two days after being cleared by the UConn medical staff to rip the splint off her hand, she followed with a performance against Central Florida that brought back memories of the immense success she enjoyed as a freshman at Georgetown in 2013-14.

In a 106-51 rout of the Knights at the XL Center, Butler produced 20 points, six rebounds and three assists in 19 minutes. Her totals in scoring and assists represented season-highs.

``I was so frustrated with it and I wanted it off,’’ Butler said. ``It was definitely weird. (Wednesday) it was weird without it playing because when you grab (the ball) you can definitely feel the difference. But I definitely feel more confident and I’m glad that there’s no issues with it and just continue to strengthen it. It feels good finally to have the splint off.

``I think the more I play without it I think it will become more natural. I shot a left-handed layup and I was like, `Yeah. I did it without the splint.’ I was like really excited. So I think the more I play the more it’ll get more natural and I won’t even think about it.’’

Butler, a 6-foot-5 center, was 9-of-11 from the field against UCF. In the previous six games, she had not made more than five field goals or attempted more than seven.

Butler also had a season-high four offensive rebounds.

``You see the game she had (Wednesday),’’ All-American Moriah Jefferson said. ``She had 20 points. She had rebounds. She had some assists in there. So she’s really a lot more confident, a lot more aggressive and if she keeps that up then she’ll be fine.’’

Butler views this type of performance as a turning point. Heading into Saturday’s game at SMU (3 p.m.; SNY), she will be looking to build on it.

``I think after this game this is definitely a crucial point for me to have this game now because it’s been a little bit of a roller coaster since I’ve been in,’’ Butler said. ``You don’t know how you’re going to fit in with the offense and especially playing for UConn you’re like, `Oh, my God, I’m finally playing for UConn.’ So I think that it was a great game. And, honestly, I’m already focused on the next game and what I need to do for that and how I can help open my teammates up.’’

Remember, Butler is a player was a unanimous choice as the Big East Freshman of the Year and averaged 13.9 points and team-highs of 13.3 rebounds, 1.8 blocks and 36.2 minutes and started all 32 games for Georgetown. However, this is also a player who had to sit out last season due to NCAA transfer rules before suffering an injury to her thumb this preseason. There is still some mystery surrounding Butler when it comes to her role with the Huskies (17-0, 7-0 AAC).

There are 12 games remaining in the regular season. This stretch will provide Butler with ample opportunity to prove herself and prove to Coach Geno Auriemma that she can be a trusted member of the rotation once the postseason gets underway in March.

``She`s a tough one to read right now because I don’t know where the real one is yet,” Auriemma said. ``It’s not like I knew her before and then I’m waiting for her to come back to her old self. So every day I am seeing where is she? There’s days in practice where you think, `Wow, you know …,’ and then there’s other days where, `Oh my God, she’s got a long way to go.’

``So days like (Wednesday) are really good because it kind of helps build and hopefully she’s learning how to get a lot done in less time. You know, where you’re used to playing every minute and taking as many shots as you want and then all of a sudden you’re in a situation like this. Figuring out how to be efficient, that’s going to be the next thing for her. If she can figure out how to do that then she’s really going to help us.”

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