HOUSTON – For the second consecutive year, the Butler men's basketball team is the national runner-up. Connecticut held the Bulldogs to 18.8 percent shooting and the Huskies defeated BU in the NCAA national title game, 53-41. Butler finishes the year 28-10.
Butler defended the way it wanted to. Butler held its own on the boards. Butler took care of the ball. Butler just couldn't make a bucket.
The Bulldogs finished with 12-for-64 shooting and had just five assists. Nine of BU's 12 baskets were 3-pointers as UConn's length and athleticism prevented Butler from scoring inside.
"Sometimes shots don't go in, and that's basketball," Butler head coach Brad Stevens said. "But I don't want to say shots just didn't go in. UConn had a lot do to with that."
Junior Shelvin Mack was the only BU player in double figures with 13 points on 4-for-15 shooting. All four of his field goals were 3-pointers. Mack also grabbed nine rebounds, a season high. Sophomore Chase Stigall hit three 3-pointers and finished with nine points.
UConn's star guard, Kemba Walker, finished with 16 points (8 below his average) on 5-for-19 shooting. He was hounded by Butler guards Ronald Nored and Shawn Vanzant and the team's overall defensive system. Jeremy Lamb scored 12 and Alex Oriakhi added 11 points and 11 rebounds.
UConn's title is the school's third. The Huskies also won championships in 2004 and 1999.
Butler had a 25-19 lead early in the second half before Connecticut went on a 14-1 run to take a 33-26 lead with 12:57 to play. A jumper by Vanzant made it 33-28 and ended a 7:05 drought where the Bulldogs could not make a basket.
When the Huskies (32-9) extended the lead to 44-30 with 5:49 left, Butler had just eight points in the second half. A pair of treys by Mack gave the Bulldogs hope, trimming the deficit to 49-41, but there wasn't enough time for BU to mount a comeback.
The Bulldogs executed a brilliant gameplan, limiting Walker and forcing UConn into 34.5 percent. The Huskies were 1 for 11 from 3-point range. Butler also grabbed 20 offensive rebounds and committed just six turnovers.
Butler did what it wanted to do. The shots just weren't going in.
"They're a great team, a great defensive team," Mack said. "They did a great job of contesting every shot. They just weren't falling today."
Both teams – and both star players Walker and Mack – started slowly. The Bulldogs made 2 of their first 14 shots. Yet, the Dawgs trailed just 13-9 with 11:58 to play in the first half. Likewise, UConn was shooting just 27 percent when a Mack free throw cut the Huskies' lead to 13-12 with 9:02 left in the half. Later, a trey by Stigall gave Butler a 16-15 lead.
The game was tied 19-19 when sophomore Andrew Smith grabbed an offensive rebound and Butler held for a one last shot. A deep 3-pointer by Mack at the halftime buzzer gave BU a 22-19 halftime lead, with the Dawgs using a 6-0 run during the final 6:05 of the half. Butler had just one 2-point field goal and two assists but had the lead.