Spencer, Huskies beat Butler for 11th straight win

HARTFORD – Dan Hurley knew he was getting a valuable, high-volume, and highly efficient shooter in Cam Spencer when the grad transfer arrived at UConn.

Getting involved in a perfect marriage, one that rivals the one with his wife? He didn’t see that coming.

“It’s like the perfect marriage, it’s like me and Andrea,” Hurley said.

While Hurley was joking about his comparison of this marriage to his real one, it’s hard to argue how perfect of a fit Spencer has been with the Huskies. He once again paced them in scoring, netting 20 points in a wire-to-wire 71-62 triumph over Butler at the XL Center Tuesday night.

Spencer shot 7-of-12 from the field, including 4-of-8 from three. He has more than made up for the departure of Jordan Hawkins, entering the night averaging 15.3 points per game with a sizzling shooting line – 48 percent from the field, 45 percent from three and 90 percent from the free throw line.

The No. 1 ranked Huskies have won 11 in a row and stand at 20-2 overall and 11-1 in the Big East. Spencer, obviously, is a significant reason for this success.

“He’s right up there with the best players in the league,” Hurley said. “That guy has been an assassin.”

Why has it worked so well?

“This guy’s wired the way we’re wired,” Hurley said. “I’m just so happy that he’s able to experience college basketball like this, the bigness of it. He hasn’t had a chance to experience this, and he’s delivered for us, over-delivered in every possible way.

“You don’t even see the day-to-day work, the pressure he puts on people in the program to get in the gym, to compete. If you don’t show up to compete against him, and practice against him, he will destroy you, he will s**t-talk you up and down. That type of stuff, we lost that with Andre (Jackson) and Adama (Sanogo) because they were wired like that. So, obviously, a perfect marriage and the system we play is allowing him to be the best version of himself in college.”

After previously playing for Loyola and Rutgers, Spencer is embracing the opportunity to close out his collegiate career in style.

“It’s been the perfect fit,” Spencer said. “(Hurley) and I are very like-minded people. I kind of grew up the same way, with him having an older brother and I am the same way with my two brothers. We’re blue-collared, very fiery, very competitive. We really want to win and hate to lose. I think that’s how everybody on the team is.”

“What you see out there on the court and in the game, is what you see during practice,” noted Donovan Clingan. “He’s just as fiery. If he hits a big shot during practice, he’s going to get hyped. If you’re playing the way you’re not supposed to, he’s going to let you know. He’s got a lot of intensity, he’s a warrior, and he loves to win.”

Speaking of Clingan, the sophomore center was a force in the paint for UConn with 18 points, 14 rebounds, and three blocks. His three-point play with 1:55 left all but sealed the win after Butler (15-8, 6-6 Big East) clawed back and pulled within five.

“He is just a different breed with how good he is and how he alters the game,” raved Butler coach Thad Motta, whose team was led by DJ Davis’ 21 points.

Alex Karaban, after missing the last game at St. John’s with an ankle injury, fought his way through 34 minutes and finished with seven points and three steals. Tristen Newton and Stephon Castle struggled for the Huskies, combining to shoot 5-of-17, but Hassan Diarra had a major impact off the bench to cover for them, notching nine points and three assists and was a game-high plus-16.

The Huskies also improved to 13-0 on their home court(s) with three home games left to play (Marquette, Villanova, Seton Hall). Dating back to last season, UConn is 28-2 at home, establishing a home-court dominance critical for long-term success.

“The crowd I thought really, really helped us (tonight),” Hurley said. “Credit our great fans, they’ve been awesome this year. We’re aware that not many teams have a chance to have a clean sheet at home, and that’s something we’re striving for. If we could do that, we know that we’re probably going to win the regular season (Big East title).”

UConn has road games ahead against two of the lessor teams in the Big East in Georgetown and DePaul, before returning to Hartford for a big showdown with Marquette.

The Huskies’ depth has played a big role this season, making up for injuries and individual struggles. Their main constant in Spencer, however, is just as important to their current standing on top of college basketball – a perfect marriage.

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