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Monday, March 28, 2011

Butler in Final Four

Bulldogs rally late, beat Gators in overtime thriller

NEW ORLEANS (AP) Of course Butler erased a late deficit. Of course the Bulldogs hit a clutch 3-pointer late in overtime. Of course they're going back to the Final Four.

News photo
Still standing: Butler's Matt Howard and Ronald Nored celebrate the Bulldogs' win over Florida on Saturday in New Orleans. The Bulldogs are headed to the Final Four for the second straight season. AP PHOTO

This is the Butler Way.

Shelvin Mack scored 27 points, including five in overtime, and Butler reached the Final Four for the second year in a row with a 74-71 victory over Florida on Saturday.

"This is a huge deal," said Zach Hahn, whose two 3-pointers helped Butler stay close in the first half. "I don't know that any other mid-major has ever done this. It's hardly happened once, let alone twice. It's an unbelievable feeling."

Butler, the Horizon League champ, has vanquished three higher seeds from major conferences — top-seeded Pittsburgh, fourth-seeded Wisconsin and now second-seeded Florida — in succession.

Those big wins came after Howard tipped in a winner in the final seconds against Old Dominion.

This game had another frantic finish.

"We just kind of stayed together, stayed the course, figured it out, and just played resiliently," Butler coach Brad Stevens said. "I'm incredibly proud of these guys. They carried their coach in a big way. . . . Our players did a great job, and (they are) just a special group. We're really lucky that they're Butler Bulldogs."

Matt Howard scored 14 and Khyle Marshall added 10 for the Bulldogs (27-9), who showed again they simply won't give in, climbing out of an 11-point hole in the last 9:25 of the second half.

In the locker room after the game, players said they hoped they made the Butler community proud. Judging by video of celebrating fans back in Indianapolis being passed around the locker room on a cell phone, they had.

Last year, Butler was able to play in front of those fans at the Final Four in Indianapolis, where about 30,000 fans attended their open practice.

Now it seems as though the Bulldogs win the crowd wherever they play, although Stevens suspects the support they had at last season's Final Four in their hometown will be hard to top.

"Nothing will be like Indy. Indy was crazy," Stevens said. "If there's 30,000 people (at open practice) they're going to try to be getting whoever else's autographs are there in Houston. It's not going to be for our guys. . . . But trust me, we will play anywhere they send us and we are thrilled to go to Houston."

Kemba leads UConn

ANAHEIM , Calif. (AP) With nine pressure-packed victories in 19 days, Connecticut has been on an exhausting sprint through the postseason for nearly three weeks now.

Turns out Kemba Walker and his Huskies aren't slowing down until they get to Houston.

Walker scored 20 points, freshman Jeremy Lamb added 19 and Connecticut earned its second Final Four berth in three years, beating Arizona 65-63 Saturday to win the West regional.

After missing the NCAA tournament entirely last year, coach Jim Calhoun's tireless team is headed to UConn's fourth Final Four, punctuated by an ebullient celebration in a building packed with Arizona fans.

"This is no time to be tired," Walker said. "We're trying to get as far as possible. We want to win this whole thing."



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