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Monday, April 4, 2011
Butler earns return trip to tourney final
HOUSTON (AP) Maybe this time that final, riveting shot will go in.
Maybe this time Butler won't need it.
The Bulldogs are back in the national title game, not as lovable underdogs but as a team intent on making up for last year's heartbreak.
"We've just got to be one shot better than last year," coach Brad Stevens said after Butler's 70-62 victory over VCU on Saturday night that put the Bulldogs back in the national title game and ended the warm-and-fuzzy story of this year's tournament.
Shelvin Mack scored 24 points, Zach Hahn came up big off the bench and the Bulldogs shut VCU down with their trademark unforgiving defense. The eighth-seeded Bulldogs (28-9) will face Connecticut on Monday night, the first time since Kentucky in 1998 that the runnerup has returned to play for the championship.
As the players walked down the hall to the locker room, one shouted out: "We're not done yet! Unfinished business, baby!"
"Last year we didn't get it done, so that's in the back of my mind," said Mack, who earlier this week said national runnerup was just another way of saying "first losers." "My teammates did a great job of getting me the ball in position to have success."
Hahn scored all eight points of his points during a 90-second span in the second half that gave Butler control of the game for good.
VCU (28-12) sure didn't look like a team critics dismissed as "unworthy" — and a whole lot worse — after it skidded into the NCAA tournament with five losses in its last eight games. But Butler's unforgiving defense was too much for the Rams, only the third No. 11 seed to reach the Final Four.
"Butler was the aggressor for the majority of the game," VCU coach Shaka Smart said. "We had our runs."
The Bulldogs came within a bounce of winning it all last year only to see Gordon Hayward's last-ditch, half-court heave carom off the rim and watch Duke celebrate the title with a 61-59 win. That the Bulldogs are playing for the title again is maybe even more impressive than the first trip, having lost Hayward, their leading scorer and rebounder, to the NBA lottery.
But it took Butler a while to get to this point. When the Bulldogs skidded through four losses in five games, including three straight, midway through the Horizon League season, many wondered if they'd even make the tournament, forget about the Final Four.
But they've reeled off 14 straight wins now and are playing with the cool determination of guys that don't want to be "first losers" ever again.
UConn in title game
HOUSTON (AP) When the options boil down to winning or heading home, nobody's better than Kemba and Connecticut.
Kemba Walker scored 18 points Saturday night to lift UConn to its 10th straight victory since finishing off a .500 Big East regular season, a 56-55 win over cold-shooting Kentucky that moved the Huskies a victory away from their third, and most improbable, NCAA title.
Walker, a quick-handed junior from the Bronx, added seven assists and six rebounds to help the young UConn team (31-9) extend a winning streak that started with a five-wins-in-five-nights leg-drainer at the conference tournament and now includes five more at the tournament that really counts.
The third-seeded Huskies — lowest seed left in a tournament that has been as unpredictable as any in history — will face No. 8 Butler, a 70-62 winner over 11th-seeded VCU in the first semifinal, on Monday.
"The guys decided they didn't want to go home; this is too much fun," UConn coach Jim Calhoun said.
But this win, which improved Calhoun to 5-1 in his four Final Four appearances, was not a work of art on either end.
Fourth-seeded Kentucky (29-9) shot 33.9 percent for the game and went 5:39 without a point late in the second half. UConn wasn't much better, but Walker, Alex Oriakhi and Shabazz Napier all made baskets to turn a 48-48 tie into a 54-48 lead with 2:29 left.