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Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Top dogs: Huskies shut down Bulldogs

Connecticut's Kemba Walker, right, celebrates with teammate Charles Okwandu, left, at the end of the men's NCAA Final Four college basketball championship game against Butler Monday, April 4, 2011, in Houston. Connecticut won 53-41.

Connecticut's Kemba Walker, right, celebrates with teammate Charles Okwandu, left, at the end of the men's NCAA Final Four college basketball championship game against Butler Monday, April 4, 2011, in Houston. Connecticut won 53-41.

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— The only thing that could stop Kemba Walker and Connecticut’s amazing run was the final buzzer.

On a night when the massive arena felt like a dusty old gym, UConn made Butler look like the underdog it really was, winning the national championship Monday night with an old-fashioned, grinding 53-41 beatdown of the Bulldogs.

Walker finished with 16 points for the Huskies (32-9), who won their 11th straight game since closing the regular season with a 9-9 Big East record that foreshadowed none of this.

They closed it out with a defensive showing for the ages, holding Butler to a 12-for-64 shooting. That’s 18.8 percent, the worst ever in a title game.

It was one of the ugliest games anyone can remember on the sport’s biggest stage. But definitely the kind of game a veteran coach like Jim Calhoun could love.

At age 68, he became the oldest coach to win the NCAA championship and joined John Wooden, Adolph Rupp, Mike Krzyzewski and Bob Knight as only the fifth coach to win three NCAA titles.

“It may be the happiest moment of my life,” Calhoun said.

Calhoun coaxed this win out of his team by accepting the reality that the rim looked about as wide as a pancake on a cold-shooting, defensive-minded night in Houston. He did it by making his players pound the ball inside and insisting on the kind of defense that UConn played during this remarkable run, but which often got overshadowed by Walker’s theatrics.

UConn trailed 22-19 after a first half that came straight out of the ’40s.

“The halftime speech was rather interesting,” Calhoun said. “The adjustment was, we were going to out-will them and outwork them.”

And so they did.

Connecticut outscored Butler by an unthinkable 26-2 in the paint. The Bulldogs (28-10), in their second straight title game and hoping to put the closing chapter on the ultimate “Hoosiers” story, went a mind-numbing 13 minutes, 26 seconds in the second half making only one field goal.

During that time, a 25-19 lead turned into a 41-28 deficit. This for a team that never trailed Duke by more than six during last year’s epic final.

That time, Gordon Hayward’s desperation halfcourt heave bounced off the backboard and rim, barely missing. This time, UConn was celebrating before the buzzer sounded, Calhoun pumping his fists and hugging an assistant while the Huskies ran to the sideline and soaked in the confetti.

The version of “Hoosiers” with the happy ending is still available on DVD.

UConn, meanwhile, gets the real celebration.

“You see the tears on my face,” Walker said. “I have so much joy in me, it’s unreal. It’s surreal. I’m so happy right now.”

Joining Walker, the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, in double figures were Jeremy Lamb with 12 points, including six during UConn’s pullaway run, and Alex Oriakhi with 11 points and 11 rebounds.

Just as impressive were the stats UConn piled up on defense. Four steals and 10 blocks, including four each by Oriakhi and Roscoe Smith, and a total clampdown of Butler’s biggest stars, Matt Howard and Shelvin Mack. Howard went 1 for 13 and Mack went 4 for 15.

“You just hope the shots go in,” Butler guard Zach Hahn said. “That’s how it’s been all tournament. Whenever we needed a big shot, somebody came up with it. I guess we just ran out of steam. Nobody could make ’em.”

Butler’s 41 points were 10 points fewer than the worst showing in the shot-clock era in a championship game. (Michigan scored 51 in a loss to Duke in 1992), and the 18.8 percent shooting broke a record that had stood since 1941.

“Without question, 41 points and 12 of 64 is not good enough to win any game, let alone the national championship,” Butler coach Brad Stevens said.

While Stevens made history by doing it “The Butler Way” and bringing this school with 4,500 students within a win of the championship for two straight years, UConn played big-boy basketball in a big-boy league and suffered through some big-time problems.

Aside from the .500 Big East record, it was a rough year off the court for the Huskies and their coaching lifer, whose season was tarnished by an NCAA investigation that found Calhoun failed to create an atmosphere of compliance in the program. He admitted he wasn’t perfect and has begrudgingly accepted the three-game suspension he’ll have to serve when the conference season starts next year.

Then again, given this performance, it’s clear UConn does its best work when it’s all-or-nothing, one-and-done.

Counting three wins at the Maui Invitational, Connecticut finished 14-0 in tournament games this year — including an unprecedented five-wins-in-five-nights success at the Big East tournament, then six games — two each week — in the one that really counts, one of the most unpredictable versions of March Madness ever.

It closed with 11th-seeded VCU in the Final Four and with eighth-seeded Butler joining the 1985 Villanova team as the highest seed to play in a championship game.

Villanova won that game by taking the air out of the ball and upsetting Georgetown.

Butler tried to do it in a most un-Butler way — by running a little and jacking up 3s.

Didn’t work, and when the Bulldogs tried later to make baskets in the paint, it really looked like there was a lid there. During their dry spell, Howard, Garrett Butcher and Andrew Smith all missed open shots from under the bucket. It just wasn’t their day.

Comments

jlvlawrence 9 years, 2 months ago

this game was awful to watch. no way were these the two best teams in the country.

Mike Kendall 9 years, 2 months ago

jlvlawrence----yep, I definitely agree. If those were the two best teams in the country, then, I got some land to sell you in the Sahara Desert. Pretty pitiful, to say the least!

eastcoasthawk 9 years, 2 months ago

The game was brutal to watch. Watching Butler miss so many bunnies reminded me of several Hawk games and made me wonder if we would have done any better. But then I remind myself that when we are up against a formidable opponent we always come to play. Would have been interesting had we made it to the final 4.

Marty Sedlacek 9 years, 2 months ago

Just wish a mid-major like Butler would have a shooting night like that when they played us. But then again, we are KU and we should not have to hope for the other team to have a bad night.

Martin Rosenblum 9 years, 2 months ago

This game was like seeing two bums fighting. You know one of them is going to win the fight but it's still just too crude to consider as sporting. One of the bums has probably reached this particular moment due to unusual, unfortunate corcumstances in his life of attempts to be respected. The other one chooses the less fortunate lifestyle due to a lack of ambition and hope and has been in many such fights. Each has different styles of fighting and has arrived at this moment of social insignificance without real value in the end result. Few will care who "wins" and most will just walk past the alley and hang their heads down in shame after pretending not to have watched. It had a sour taste at the end.

lovemyhawks 9 years, 2 months ago

that game was pretty pathetic and made me absolutely SICK that our jayhawks were not there to be a part of it!! SHOULD have been a ku-ohio state finale and a REAL ballgame!! wow, butler shot far worse than the jayhawks even did. pretty sad game. THEN we weren't even included in "one shining moment"!! wow, could not believe it!! a sad sad ending to a great year!! wish it could have been different......

DCSven 9 years, 2 months ago

If you haven't already, check out this poll on ESPN about the tourney. Hey Kansas fans, bitter much? http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/fp/flashPollResultsState?sportIndex=ncb&pollId=110045

justanotherfan 9 years, 2 months ago

There's a saying that everybody likes upsets, but everybody wants the bluebloods in the finals. The reason is because of nights like last night. This wasn't ugly basketball because of turnovers. The turnovers were relatively light. UConn had 11, Butler 6. But the shooting was an embarrassment.

Butler is a good team. Lots of very solid players. They had a great run. But they don't really have playmakers. Mack was their only playmaker, and once Lamb shut him down, they had no way to generate any offense. Mack and Howard are both very good players that would probably get good minutes just about anywhere. But guys like Nored, Hahn, Marshall, Smith, VanSant and Stigall would all struggle to break the rotation in most places.

Last year against Duke, the game was similar in it's lack of real beauty and flow. Sorry to say, this is what happens when you don't have the top notch players on the biggest stage. The best final of the last ten years was the final in which the Final Four featured all four number one seeds. Why? Well, because the best two teams, the most talented two teams in the country met and played basketball. Neither team felt they needed to slow it down to have a chance to play with the other team, or turn it into an ugly war of attrition. They just got out there and played, and brought the best out of each other.

In fact, if you look back at championship games, the highest quality games usually feature two high seeds. Games featuring a low seed (lower than 4) usually end up being watered down. Think back to the Villanova championship in the 80's - ugly game. KU in 1988. Slowed down game - Manning was transcendent, but not the prettiest game. NC State over Houston. The last two seasons. All of these games featured a lower seed that had to slow the game down to have a chance to stay with the more talented higher seed.

Now ponder the games that have been the most fun to watch. Syracuse-KU. KU-Memphis. Arizona-Duke. Florida-Ohio State. All high caliber games with lots of talent on the floor.

This isn't meant to be a criticism of Butler. I respect the heck out of what they have done the last two years. They have beaten people by executing and not making many mistakes. They didn't make many mistakes last night, but UConn showed them a level of athleticism that guaranteed they would not execute. And we were all witnesses.

Redlandsjhawk 9 years, 2 months ago

50-50 at halftime in 88 a slow down game?

justanotherfan 9 years, 2 months ago

I had intended to say "after halftime" in the previous comment. After going up and down in the first half, the game backed off considerably in the second half. I thought I typed it but didn't keep it when I edited for space I guess.

jlvlawrence 9 years, 2 months ago

anybody else see that someone from hoopsworld.com is reporting that selby is working out in Vegas and that he plans on signing with an agent?

Michael Bratisax 9 years, 2 months ago

Couldn't help wondering how KU would have fared in last nights game...both teams looked like they wanted to match our game against VCU. We really blew an opportunity to add #4.

lovemyhawks 9 years, 2 months ago

im STILL wondering today...... wow!! u r right..... we blew a golden opportunity that doesn't come around every day. that game was ugly...... should have been a contest between ku and ohio state but guess that would take the "fun" out of the tournament, huh?!! sure wish we could have been there playing uconn..... think #4 WOULD be ours and it could have truly been ONE SHINING MOMENT!!

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