UConn's Isaiah Whaley named Big East co-Defensive Player of Year, Tyler Polley top sixth man

In UConn’s first year back in the Big East, it has claimed an award it dominated back in its heyday.

Isaiah Whaley has been named the league’s co-Defensive Player of the Year. He shares the award with St. John’s freshman Posh Alexander.

Meanwhile, fellow UConn senior forward Tyler Polley won the league’s Sixth Man Award.

Whaley, UConn’s 6-foot-9 senior forward, finished second in the Big East in blocked shots both in overall games (2.7) and conference games (2.53). Only Seton Hall 7-footer Ike Obiagu (2.76, 2.68) averaged more.

Whaley was hardly a one-dimensional shot-blocker, however. His ability to hedge on a ball screen would rank among the best in the country, if such things were measured, and his disruptive, on-the-ball defense has helped contain players like Sandro Mamukelashvili, who was repeatedly blocked and pestered by Whaley in UConn’s most recent bout with Seton Hall.

Whaley helped spearhead a Husky defense that ranked first in the Big East in scoring defense at 65.5 points per game and second in field goal percentage defense at 41.8.

Its the eighth time a UConn player has been named Big East Defensive Player of the Year, and the first time since Hasheem Thabeet won it in consecutive seasons (2008, 2009). Other past Husky winners were Hilton Armstrong (2006), Josh Boone (2005), Emeka Okafor (2003, 2004) and Donyell Marshall (1994).

Amida Brimah was named the American Athletic Conference’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2015.

Alexander led the Big East in steals (2.6) and ranked eighth nationally.

Polley, a 6-9 forward, is averaging 7.6 points per game and shooting 36 percent from 3-point range in 19 games this season — all but three as a reserve off the bench. He was never better than on Jan. 5, when he poured in a career-high 24 points and five 3-pointers to spearhead UConn’s rally from an 18-point deficit to a win at Marquette.

Polley followed that up four days later with 19 points in a win at Butler and was named Big East Player of the Week. He rebounded this season after suffering a season-ending torn ACL injury in January, 2020.

Other Big East awards announced ono Monday were co-Most Improved Player (St. John’s Julian Champagnie, Xavier’s Zach Freemantle) and Sportsmanship Award (Creighton’s Mitch Ballock). The league’s Player of the Year, Coach of the Year, Freshman of the Year and Scholar-Athlete Award will be announce on Wednesday.

All Big East postseason awards are voted on by the league’s coaches, who can’t vote for their own players.

UConn begins Big East tournament play on Thursday at 9 p.m. at Madison Square Garden against the winner of Wednesday night’s Providence-DePaul bout.

david.borges@hearstmediact.com