April 04, 2011
When a CBS sideline reporter asked Brad Stevens about his team's offensive woes as he left the court at halftime of Monday's national title game, the exasperated Butler coach chided her for not recognizing the exceptional defense UConn was playing.
"Both teams are guarding hard," he said. "It may not be pretty offensively."
Indeed, Butler's 53-41 loss wasn't pretty offensively, but Stevens never could have imagined how poorly his Bulldogs would handle UConn's stingy defense, quick feet and length around the rim.
They shot a title game record-low 18.8 percent from the field. They attempted an astonishing 33 3-pointers, making nine. And they made just 3-of-31 shots they attempted from inside the arc, some of the misses altered by UConn's shot blockers and others rushed out of fear of having the ball swatted away.
The historically inept shooting performance was a tragic way for eighth-seeded Butler's fairytale NCAA tournament run to end. At one point this season the Bulldogs were 14-9 overall, 6-5 in the Horizon League and unlikely to even make the NCAA tournament, but they won 14 straight games prior to Monday night's loss.
If last year's loss in the national title game was crushing for how close Gordon Hayward's last-second halfcourt prayer came to delivering the Bulldogs a championship, this one was even more excruciating because Butler simply didn't play its best.
An efficient high-screen offense powered by stars Shelvin Mack and Matt Howard had propelled Butler past the likes of Pittsburgh, Wisconsin and Florida in this tournament, but Connecticut disrupted the Bulldogs like no opponent had before. The Huskies doubled every screen, rotated quickly and used their superior length to alter shots in the paint or contest them on the perimeter.
There still appeared to be hope for Butler when guard Chase Stigall sank a 3-pointer to give the Bulldogs a 25-19 lead in the opening minute of the second half, but a seven-minute scoring drought enabled UConn to seize control.
Mack was the only Butler player in double figures with 13 points on 4-of-15 shooting. Howard shot a season-worst 1 for 13 from the floor in his final collegiate game and finished with seven points.
Even a nightmare night like this won't alter the legacy of these Bulldogs.
Twice in two years they defied the odds to reach the national title game. On Monday night, the magic simply ran out.
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