For two straight seasons, the Butler Bulldogs have been the feel-good story of college basketball. They were the mid-major that could. A year ago, they were one heartbreaking, just-off-the-rim shot away from winning the national championship. They were proof that a little school can compete on an equal footing with the big boys.
But Monday night, Butler played what can only be described as one of the most horrendous games imaginable.
Every “H” word that I can think of can be applied to Butler’s performance: hideous, horrible, hopeless an historic. Officially, it was the worst shooting percentage in the history of the NCAA title game: 18.8 percent. The Bulldogs only made three two-point baskets all game.
The final score—Connecticut 53, Butler 41—was nowhere near indicative of the way this game was actually played. And the 12-point margin could not possibly have been wider.
As bad as I feel as a Butler fan, I feel even worse for Butler’s players. They will now forever be remembered for this pathetically bad game. What riles me the most is the fact that as poorly as they played, this remained a winnable game even to the final few minutes. And if you add up all of the point-blank, anemically-missed layups, Butler more than had a chance to spring the upset.
That’s why it was so hard to get up this morning. It was especially difficult waking up knowing that I would have to listen to the smug, self-important assessments coming from ESPN’s Dick Vitale and Jay Bilas, whose bias for the major schools throughout the tournament, and dismissal of the so-called mid-majors, was galling.
That said, most of the credit for Butler’s nightmare should be accorded to the UConn Huskies. UConn’s taller, more athletic players intimidated Butler right from the very start, even though the Huskies shot only 34 percent from the field themselves. They completely shut down Butler’s two stars, Matt Howard and Shelvin Mack. Neither player ever looked comfortable taking his shots, mainly because UConn's length obscured their vision all game long. Howard made only one of 13 shots. Mack was just 4 of 15.
And the icing on UConn’s third national championship was spread by magnificent point guard Kemba Walker, whose leadership and will to win was contagious, helping to instill all the confidence his younger teammates would ever need.
In closing, Connecticut was easily the better team Monday night. As a disheartened, stunned Butler booster, that’s about all I have to say—until next year.