SALT LAKE CITY – The Butler Bulldogs are writing one of college basketball's all-time great stories: the Bulldogs will play in the NCAA Final Four in their hometown of Indianapolis. The No. 5 seed Bulldogs defeated No. 2 seed Kansas State, 63-56, Saturday afternoon to advance to college basketball's biggest stage just six miles from campus.
Sophomore Gordon Hayward had game highs of 22 points and nine rebounds and was named the Most Outstanding Player of the West Regional. Sophomore Shelvin Mack scored 16 points and was named to the all-region team with Hayward.
Butler (32-4) led for more than 39 minutes in the game and had a 49-39 lead when Mack hit a 3-pointer with 7:36 left in the game. Kansas State (29-7) rallied to tie it at 54 with 3:09 remaining. But the Bulldogs didn't fold, scoring the next nine points to seal the game before K-State's Jacob Pullen's shot at the buzzer dropped to provide the final margin.
BU's tournament run has been fueled by the team's defense, suffocating on the perimeter and stout on the inside. And once again, Butler delivered a defensive masterpiece. Pullen and teammate Denis Clemente didn't score a point for Kansas State until 15 seconds were left in the first half much to the credit of tough defense by sophomore Ronald Nored and senior Willie Veasley.
Clemente finished with 18 and Pullen with 14, but they shot a combined 11-for-30 and few looks came easily.
With the Wildcats leading 52-51 with 4:50 to play, Hayward got fouled going to the hole and made two free throws to take the lead back, and teammate junior Matt Howard made one more free throw to make it 54-52. Clemente hit a layup to tie the game at 54, and that was the last significant basket the Wildcats would make.
Butler took the lead on the next possession when Hayward stretched his entire 6-foot-9 frame to not only collect a too-high, alley-oop pass from Nored, but collect himself and make the shot.
Pullen came back with an airball and Butler pulled away from there with the game-clinching run.
The Bulldogs, who will be the first team to play in a Final Four in its hometown since UCLA in 1972, will play the winner of Sunday's Michigan State-Tennessee contest. Butler is quite familiar with the Volunteers, defeating them in the 2006 Preseason NIT and losing in overtime in the second round of the 2008 NCAA Tournament. Michigan State is the only Big Ten team Butler has never faced.