Duke gives Krzyzewski his fourth national championship
The hard part about real life, as opposed to movies, is you can’t edit film on the two shots star Gordon Hayward missed in the final five seconds that would have given Butler the NCAA title over Duke.
You can’t let Hayward take the baseline jumper until he makes it, or do a dozen retakes on the hold-your-breath half-court heave at the buzzer that clanked off the rim.
That only works, most times, in your dreams, in the driveway.
OK, it worked once, in Butler’s gym, for an underdog Indiana high school team, in 1954, and they made a movie, but when do sequels ever work?
Duke won, 61-59, not Butler, and it all came down, along with the confetti, in front of 70,930 fans at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Down by one in the end, Hayward’s baseline shot was just long, bounding back toward him off rim.
That’s the one he wants back.
“I thought it was a good shot for us,” Hayward said.
Duke center Brian Zoubek was fouled with 3.6 seconds left, made one free throw, missed the second on purpose, and Hayward streaked upcourt and then let it loose.
Duke guard Nolan Smith’s heart, at this point, was in his throat.
“I just thought, ‘please don’t,’” Smith said. “It looked good. I was just praying it didn’t go in.”
Hayward’s teammates also watched, and hoped. They were too young to remember an even longer shot Lakers star Jerry West made against the New York Knicks in the 1970 NBA Finals. That one sent the game to overtime, although the Lakers lost.
“I thought it was going in,” forward Matt Howard said of Hayward’s heave. “That makes it even a little more devastating. You think that shot is going, and then it rims out like it did.”
Hayward knew the odds, but there was something about the shot when it left his hands.
“Felt good,” Hayward said. “Looked good. Just wasn’t there....Just didn’t go in.”
Butler didn’t win its first national title.
Instead, Duke won its fourth championship under Coach Mike Krzyzewski, who passed mentor Bob Knight on the all-time title list and pulled even with Kentucky’s Adolph Rupp.
Krzyzewski’s voice was reduced to rasp afterward, barely able to convey what it meant.
“I’ve been fortunate to be in eight national championship games,” he said. “And this was a classic. This was the toughest one and the best one.”
It won’t matter to Butler for a long time how close it came to actually pulling this off. Nor that the game will be compared to the 1992 regional-final classic between Kentucky and Duke.
It may be years before Butler players can watch the replay.
“For me, it’s going to be the loss,” Hayward said. “Hate losing.”
Hayward made the game-winning shot to give his high school team the state title, but he wanted more. He wanted it all, and he almost had it.
But know this: Duke and Butler ended an NCAA tournament to remember with a championship game few will forget.
“I think the thing that should be known about this game is anything can happen in a basketball game,” Butler Coach Brad Stevens said.
The underdog didn’t win, though. The big dogs did.
Butler had not allowed a team to score more than 60 points in the tournament. It allowed Duke 61 and lost by two.
The Bulldogs were as scrappy as their canine mascot, Blue II, who barked his way through pregame introductions.
Duke was the mail carrier trying to shake this pooch.
The longer Duke let Butler hang on, the more the possibility of an upset lingered.
Tied at 36-all with 17:40 left? They’re still in it.
Tied at 40-all? Hello, we’re still here.
Duke shot out to a four-point lead with 12:25 left but Butler shot back.
Five straight points by Jon Scheyer put Duke up by five with eight minutes left, but Butler cut it back to three.
Butler was not going away — despite making only 20 of 58 shots and getting outrebounded.
Duke versus Butler was a fitting way to end one of the best tournaments in years, making it sort of silly to think the NCAA is seriously thinking of expanding from 65 to 96 teams.
Duke vs. Butler represented the best of what the sport, and the tournament, can be: A fabled program going against a fable.
You know what some Butler players had to do the day of the title game?
Go to class.
Butler’s run to the final invigorated a host city that lives and breathes basketball.
“I know this week I’ve seen more Butler T-shirts than I’ve seen in my life before this weekend,” Stevens said.
This tournament has been a half-court swish from the opening Thursday. There were great story lines, ranging from St. Mary’s march to the Sweet 16, Northern Iowa’s upset of top-seeded Kansas and Kansas State’s triple-overtime thriller against Xavier.
Why would you mess with this?
The NCAA is taking a risk in tinkering with something so magical — especially after the way it ended.
“What do my insides feel like?” said Stevens, the Butler coach. “Somewhat empty.”
He wasn’t alone.
Every once in a while you get moments like these in sports and all you can do is sit back and see if the final shot goes in, or doesn’t.
“I’m speechless, " Duke’s Smith said.
He wasn’t alone, either.