HOUSTON — The Connecticut Huskies, weren’t good, but the Butler Bulldogs were historically inept and as a result, they are the 2011 NCAA champions.
Just about everybody wanted tiny Butler to win on Monday.
But they didn’t deserve to. Not even close.
In what was supposed to be the pinnacle of the college basketball season, Butler laid a massive egg and made the game almost unwatchable.
Butler shot 22% in the first half, then, amazingly sunk to 16.2% in the second half and finished at 18.8%. 12-for-64, the worst shooting performance in title game history.
As a result of Butler’s hideous performance, the Connecticut Huskies won their third championship, 53-41 putting head coach Jim Calhoun in an exclusive club. He is now one of five men with at least three NCAA divison I championships to his name and, a month away from his 69th birthday, the oldest coach ever to win.
“It may be the happiest moment of my life,” Calhoun said.
Jeremy Lamb led the way with 12 points - all in the second half after Calhoun told his team to “outwill” and “outwork” the Bulldogs.
Remarkably, UConn won six straight at this tournament after winning five games in five nights to claim the Big East tourney in March.
Superstar Kemba Walker couldn’t make many shots himself - he was just 5-for-19 from the floor - but he was solid defensively and grabbed nine rebounds, second only to centre Alex Oriakhi’s 11.
When the champs took the stage, Walker was serenaded with a chant of his name and “one more year.”
“Good luck with that,” replied the reasonable supporters to their friends, Walker is surely bound for the NBA.
Walker will graduate on May 8th in three years, with the championship trophy, on his 21st birthday.
He was named most outstanding player for the tournament.
It’s not like UConn was solid, the team shot just 27.3% in the first half and trailed by three.
But the defence and unfriendly rims left shell-shocked Butler hopeless in the second half.
“Credit UConn for defending the way they do because I thought they defended shots better than any team we’ve played all year,” said a disappointed Butler head coach Brad Stevens.
“We’re just coming out of a locker room that’s hurting. It’s hard to talk about the game.
“We guarded as well as we could. Shooting 12-for-64 is not going to win you many ballgames.”
UConn locked up Butler star Shelvin Mack, who missed 11 of his 15 attempts. Matt Howard, also on the all-tournament team, was even worse, 1-for-13 in a game that will surely haunt him in his nightmares.
“We kept telling each other some shots are going to go in, it just wasn’t happening,” Howard said.
“They guard you so well that when you get a few open ones, you don’t feel that comfortable,” Stevens said.
“We’ve done that a few times to teams, but never on that level.”
UConn had 10 blocks in the game and a 53-41 edge on the glass.
It was sad that such a fantastic NCAA tournament ended on this dismal note, but Connecticut fans - including former Huskies Rip Hamilton, Charlie Villanueva and Ben Gordon, all among the 70,376 in attendance at cavernous Reliant Stadium - of course will remember it as a masterpiece years from now.
UConn finished just ninth in the Big East, but came togther at all the right moments. In Hawaii at a tourney to start the season, at the Big East big dance and now, on the biggest stage of them all. Eleven wins in 17 days is a feat, no matter how some of them were earned.
UConn shot just 2-for-23 from three in the Final Four, but somehow found a way to get it done for their beloved coach, whose return next season is uncertain due to both his age and a rules violation scandal.
If he goes, he’ll go out a winner.
For Butler, the dream may well be dead. Only three other teams have lost two finals in a row and they won’t be sneaking up on anybody anymore.