National Title Game Recap: UConn Wins Third National Title

    
April 5th, 2011
Given the defensive numbers that both Butler and Connecticut boasted going into Monday night's matchup for the national title few expected a high-scoring contest. But what ensued at Reliant Stadium was stunning, as a game that featured just 17 turnovers combined (11 for the Huskies) looked far uglier than anyone expected. Thanks to their dominance scoring inside and a good job of challenging shots, Jim Calhoun's team won the school's third national title by the final score of 53-41.

Kemba Walker, who has led the Huskies all season long, made just five of nineteen shots but scored a game-high 16 points and was named Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four. But the catalyst offensively for UConn was freshman Jeremy Lamb, who scored all 12 of his points in the second half and sparked a 22-3 run that essentially put the game away.

Shelvin Mack led the Bulldogs with 13 points but shot 4-for-15 from the field, and as a team Butler made history and not in a good way. Brad Stevens' team could not find their groove offensively, shooting 18.8% from the field to set the record for worst percentage in title game history. Butler's 9-for-33 showing from beyond the arc was trumped by an even worse percentage inside the arc: 3-for-31. Why'd Butler shoot so poorly on the biggest stage in college basketball? A combination of two factors: UConn's length/ability to challenge shots, and the Bulldogs missing a number of shots in the paint.

"I thought we got decent looks in the second half. We just missed quite a few," said Coach Stevens of his team's offensive struggles. "Credit UConn for defending the way they do because I thought they challenged shots better than any team we've played all year."

Neither team was particularly good offensively, with UConn shooting just 34.5% for the game. But they were able to get hot (comparatively speaking) early in the second half, going from six points down following a Chase Stigall three pointer twenty seconds into the half to up 13 with 7:33 remaining. Butler made just two field goals over a 13-minute stretch, and by that point am 11-point deficit felt more like 21.

The Bulldogs outscored UConn by 24 (27-3) from beyond the arc but disadvantages from two (36-6) and the foul line (14-8) left them in the role of runner-up for the second straight season. As for UConn, they ended a remarkable run through tournament play in March: 11-0. Add in three wins in Maui back in November and the Huskies went 14-0 in tournament games, not to mention 17-0 against non-conference opponents.

While the Big East coaches may not have been far off in their projection of this team (preseason pick to finish 10th in the conference; finished tied for 9th), outside of those directly connected with the program what this team has accomplished was unfathomable back in February. Last season, one that featured a serious lack of leadership, finished in the NIT with an 18-16 record. But with a leader as powerful as Walker the youngsters were able to grow, ultimately resulting in UConn winning the national title.

"From last season, the loss to Virginia Tech, coach, he gave me the keys," said Walker. "From that point on, I just drove. I called these guys, told them that we gonna work hard. Just be ready to come and work hard. That's what they did."

The Huskies did just that with Shabazz Napier coming off the bench to once again change the flow of the game, and Alex Oriakhi (11 points, 11 rebounds) and Roscoe Smith blocking four shots apiece (UConn finished with 10 blocks, a big reason why Matt Howard and Andrew Smith combined to shoot 3-for-22). One player doesn't result in a championship, something UConn has put on full display in both New York (Big East Championship) and the NCAA Tournament.

So while the Huskies head back to campus with another title, where does this leave the Butler program? To simply point out the fact that the Bulldogs are the fourth school to have lost consecutive title games would be terribly unfair. To get to this point in consecutive seasons is an admirable achievement in itself, and solid proof that there's a very good program (and not just a team) that calls Hinkle Fieldhouse home.

It all began with Barry Collier's tenure as head coach, and while the names have changed on the floor and in the head coach's chair throughout the years the success has remained. This much can be guaranteed: Butler will be heard from in the future. Monday simply wasn't their night.