HOUSTON -- Butler is ready for Part II.
After playing last season's underdog role and advancing to the NCAA tournament final, the Bulldogs did it again Saturday -- only this time as the favorite. Despite being a low No. 8 seed, the Bulldogs defeated 11th-seeded Virginia Commonwealth, 70-62, for another shot at winning it all.
The Bulldogs became the nation's lovable underdogs last season, drawing comparisons to the movie Hoosiers thanks to their small-school stature, Indianapolis roots and famous Hinkle Fieldhouse home. They were just as much a surprise this season, marching on despite losing forward Gordon Hayward to the NBA a season early and enduring a January slump in the Horizon League.
But now they will try to do what Villanova did as a No. 8-seeded team in 1985: win the championship.
To make up for last season's last-second loss to Duke, the Bulldogs must get by either No. 3 Connecticut or No. 4 Kentucky on Monday night -- two teams that know a little something about winning championships.
They probably will need to shoot better than the 36.2% of their shots they landed against VCU, but the important news for Butler is it has another shot.
"It's a focused locker room and we realize there's still a game to play," forward Matt Howard said, "and hopefully another game to be won."
The championship game could set up a dream matchup for Lexington, Ky., native Shelvin Mack.
Mack played like a man on a mission. He scored 24 points, making five of six three-pointers and received help from forward Matt Howard, who scored 17 points and had eight rebounds.
"He was a killer tonight," VCU Coach Shaka Smart said. "He stepped up and made some huge, huge shots."
The Bulldogs were intrepid on defense, defusing VCU's three-pointer as a killer and crashing the boards. They outrebounded VCU, 48-32, and outscored them on second-chance points, 19-6.
VCU entered the game with lava-hot three-point shooting. The Rams made eight of 22 but Butler held them to 36.4%, well below their tournament average of 43.8%, and forcing them to go inside.
VCU forward Jamie Skeen, who picked up his third foul just 60 seconds after halftime, scored 27 points on 10-of-18 shooting, going against Howard.
"I was nervous as heck when they started making all those 3s early," Butler Coach Brad Stevens said. "I thought our rotations were OK, but not good enough. But we defended for the most part like we wanted."
The teams traded one-point leads through much of the second half until Butler made its run as Mack scored seven-straight points to provide the Bulldogs with a seven-point lead with less than nine minutes remaining.
VCU stayed close but Butler made 7 of 8 free throws in the final 43 seconds to put things away.