It’s bricker-shock as Connecticut beats Butler, 53-41, in an ugly NCAA title game
It wasn’t evil versus good, it was ugly versus uglier.
The first NCAA title game featuring Huskies and Bulldogs turned out to be a dog.
Connecticut’s 53-41 victory over Butler at Reliant Stadium on Monday night was not what most of heartland America gathered around the television to see — a teachable moment in which clean-cut wins and justice prevails.
It didn’t happen by a long shot — most of which were clanked.
The winning team shot 34.5% and won by a landslide. The 53 points were the fewest by the winning side since Kentucky scored 46 against Oklahoma State in 1949.
Nobody’s complaining back in Storrs.
“I can’t even talk right now,” junior guard Kemba Walker, named the Final Four’s most outstanding player, said after the game. “I feel weak right now. I can’t talk.”
The game left a lot of people speechless.
Monday’s crowd was announced at 70,376, but it wasn’t standing room only at the end.
Former Arizona coach Lute Olson got up and left with 3:17 to play. Could you blame him?
Arizona missed two three-point attempts in the West Regional final against Connecticut that could have sent the Wildcats to the Final Four.
Butler, poor Butler, trying to set the bar so high, ended up doing the limbo.
The Bulldogs fell two points short of Duke in last year’s title game — and right into a ditch this year.
It was sad, hard to watch, painful, pathetic — but also the plain truth.
Butler made three two-point baskets in 40 minutes. That’s not a typo . . . THREE.
“Just a rough night for us on the offensive end,” Butler junior guard Shelvin Mack understated.
Butler’s nine other baskets were three-pointers. It shot 12 for 64 — 18.8%, worst ever in the title game — and 10 of its shots blocked.
“You know,” Butler Coach Brad Stevens said, “Forty-one points, 12 of 64 is not good enough to win any game, let alone the national championship game.”
Incredibly, somehow, Butler led at the half because Connecticut scored only 19 points, the fewest in a title game since Cal scored that many in 1960 against Ohio State.
Butler made the first second-half basket — a three by Chase Stigall — to extend its lead to 25-19.
The Bulldogs then scored only 16 more points in the last 19:40.
“They just weren’t going in,” Bulldogs senior Matt Howard said of his team’s catapult slings toward the basket.
Connecticut, also in a stupor, woke up long enough in a second-half stretch to go on a 25-5 run to earn the school its third national title.
The Huskies made only 19 of their 55 attempts but it was plenty enough. Walker, the team’s unquestioned hero in an 11-game winning streak that started in the Big East tournament, led all scorers with 16 points. He missed 14 of 19 attempts.
Nobody was going quibble with Walker’s being named MOP — he’s been college basketball’s best player for at least the last month.
Connecticut’s better-late-than-never star was sidekick guard Jeremy Lamb, who scored all 12 of his points after intermission.
“Going into halftime, I didn’t have any points,” Lamb said. “My teammates just encouraged me, saying, ‘We need you.’”
Let’s make this clear. Connecticut has played stellar defense during its winning streak, holding opponents to 59 points a game and 37.5% shooting.
The Huskies frustrated and flummoxed the Bulldogs on a night one team could not hit the broad sign of a Butler barn.
It was going to be a strange champion no matter who won. Butler this year didn’t even outright claim the Horizon League.
Connecticut, not to be outdone, just completed one of the most ridiculous runs in NCAA history — five straight wins in the conference tournament, six in the NCAA — after losing four of its last five regular season games.
“When we lost four out of five, Coach [Jim] Calhoun just told us, ‘I’m not going to quit on you guys,’” sophomore center Alex Oriakhi said. “He believed in us.”
Connecticut won the national title after finishing ninth in its conference. If that’s ever been done, anywhere, in any sport, please call our 1-800 hotline.
It was a joyous, but not clean, ending for the 68-year-old Calhoun. He became only the fifth coach to win at least three NCAA titles, yet it came with the price of some career taint.
If Calhoun returns for his 26th season next year — and this might be a terrific time for him to retire — he faces a three-game suspension in Big East play for his part in NCAA sanctions handed down in February.
Again, if anyone can recall that happening before, we have operators standing by.
The performance of Calhoun’s players over the last month has helped ease the burden.
Calhoun said this was “maybe, professionally, the happiest moment of my life.”
Yet, the criticism had to hurt.
“There [were] some people that felt it was a great time to take cheap shots,” Calhoun said. “That was the only hurtful part.”
Maybe, in a twisted way, Monday was a fitting ending to this year’s tournament.
Nothing ordinary would have made sense, right? In fact, if you started the tournament over next week, you might get a completely different Sweet 16.
It may be some time, though, before something will top Monday’s low.
This city, remember, once featured Guy Lewis’ rim-hanging, flying Houston Cougars. That squad was called Phi Slama Jama. The nickname was coined by former Times sportswriter Tom Bonk in 1983 after Houston dunked 29 times in a 112-58 rout of Pacific.
There were two dunks in Houston on Monday — both second-half slams by Connecticut.
A new champion was crowned and a new name was coined: Phi Slama Sloppy.
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