Elite 8 Saturday Recap: Butler, Connecticut Punch Tickets to Houston
Starting guards Kenny Boynton and Erving Walker combined to shoot 2-for-10 from deep, with Walker making just one field goal in eight attempts on the game. Butler did have its issues defensively however, struggling with ball screen situations and interior defense early on. But they improved as the game went on, doing a better job of making the entry passes into the post more difficult.
"It was very successful for them," said head coach Brad Stevens of Florida's interior offense. "We weren't active off of those guys that were around the post. If [Vernon] Macklin took three dribbles, nobody ever made him pick it up. Or if he spun baseline, nobody was there to take a charge or to take the ball away or anything. We were really more stand-still than we usually are, than we want to be."
As the Bulldogs became more active as a unit they were able to make their charge, rallying from 11 points down with 9:26 remaining to send the game into overtime on a Matt Howard free throw with 30 seconds to go. Also falling victim to the Butler defense was wing Chandler Parsons. Parsons went scoreless over the final 37 minutes, scoring just five points on 2-for-9 shooting.
What did work for Florida was going inside to Macklin, who finished with 25 points and seven rebounds. But in the final minute of regulation he was on the bench, most likely due to the fact that he struggles from the foul line. And despite having the final shot of regulation Florida head coach Billy Donovan chose to not use a timeout and maybe put Macklin back in.
The Gators had faith in Erving Walker to make a play but he took the contested three in the waning seconds. The goal was to get something going off of a ball screen but once again the Bulldogs were able to divert the path of a Florida guard. The same thing happened in overtime with Florida trailing 72-71 win under 30 seconds remaining as Boynton took a deep three instead of working to get to the basket.
"I would have liked to have seen him drive the ball," remarked Florida head coach Billy Donovan. "But like I said, he's made some huge threes in the second halves of games and overtimes for us all year long, and if it goes in, we're talking about how Boynton's clutch shooting continues. But it didn't go in, and that's what happens."
What makes Butler's run all the more improbable than last season is their turning point. Last year the Bulldogs won 25 straight games before falling to Duke in the national title game, while this year a loss to Youngstown State served as the spark. This second trip speaks to the staying power of Stevens' program. To lose the likes of Gordon Hayward, Avery Jukes and Willie Veasley and yet make another run displays both the talent and toughness of the Butler program.
Those characteristics also lie within Jim Calhoun's Connecticut Huskies, who won their ninth straight game (in 19 days) in the West Region final. Kemba Walker led the team in scoring with 20 points to go along with seven assists, but it was freshman Jeremy Lamb who made the plays late on both ends of the floor in their 65-63 win over Arizona. Down three after a pair of Derrick Williams free throws with 6:36 remaining, UConn went to Lamb on consecutive possessions to regain the lead.
Both shots on the left baseline came on the same kind of play: run the indefatigable Lamb off of screens, which also allowed Walker to take some time off from being the focal point of the offense. Walker provided the next two points of what would eventually be an 10-0 run, and Alex Oriakhi's putback of a Lamb missed three gave the Huskies a 60-55 lead. Lamb capped the run with a huge play on the defensive end, picking off a Williams pass for a dunk that pushed the lead out to seven with 3:08 to go.
But Arizona would make their charge thanks to three pointers from Kyle Fogg and Jamelle Horne, setting the stage for a final frantic sequence. Williams, who finished with 20 points, missed a three challenged by Charles Okwandu and Horne missed the second as Fogg found him on the right wing after an offensive rebound. The Huskies were able to neutralize one of the Wildcats' biggest weapons throughout the course of the game, limiting the Pac-10's best three-point shooting team to 4-for-21 from beyond the arc.
And they were able to make their first half run with Williams in foul trouble, taking advantage of the phenom picking up three fouls. "After Kemba, Derrick might be as good of a player that we've played against, he was hampered by fouls early and came back in the second half and played wonderfully for them," said Coach Calhoun of the Pac-10 Player of the Year.
At one point during the regular season the Huskies lost four of five, and the season-ending loss to Notre Dame at home is what many have pointed to as the turning point for this young team. Nine games in 19 days is a phenomenal achievement for a team as young as Connecticut, and more and more it's become obvious that there's a lot more at play than the mastery of Walker.
"I don't know where it stands in NCAA postseason play, but it's got to stand somewhere these nine games because I've never seen a team do what these kids have done," said Calhoun.
G Shelvin Mack (Butler)
27 points, four rebounds and four assists in the Bulldogs' win over Florida, grabbing with second straight Final Four appearance.
F Jesse Perry (Arizona)
Perry may have had his best game of the season in the Wildcats's loss to Connecticut, finishing with 14 points and seven rebounds. His activity was a big reason as to why Arizona remained in the game with Derrick Williams in foul trouble.
G Kemba Walker (Connecticut)
20 points, seven assists and four rebounds in the Huskies' win over Arizona.
F Vernon Macklin (Florida)
25 points and five rebounds in the Gators' loss to Butler.