The Huskies had the greatest post-season run of all time, and other reflections on the cover-your-eyes awful championship
Can we open our eyes yet? Have the misses finally stopped?
OK, maybe it wasn't that bad, but most of the NCAA title game between Connecticut and Butler was cover-your-eyes awful. The teams combined to shoot just 26.1 percent from the field, and if you discount the early years of the tournament (the ones where a school like City College of New York could win it all), this was the worst combined offensive performance in a title game by virtually any metric.
When the bricks settled, UConn had outlasted Butler, 53-41, behind the steady leadership of Kemba Walker and second-half scoring of freshman Jeremy Lamb. Five thoughts from the game:
1.) Butler never got comfortable: Perhaps the understatement of the year. In the early going, the Bulldogs seemed to finally let the pressure of their remarkable back-to-back Cinderella quests for a championship get to them, missing nine of their first 10 shots. Then UConn's big men asserted themselves, blocking an NCAA-record tying 10 shots in the contest. In the second half, Butler starting rushing its shots to avoid getting blocked, even when they were wide open. The result was an epically bad shooting performance—the Bulldogs missed 42 of their first 50 shots and made only 12 baskets the entire game. CBS analyst Clark Kellogg summed it up with one nicely turned phrase: "unparalleled ineptitude."
2.) Jim Calhoun earned his coaching legacy: The cantankerous UConn coach joined an elite coaching fraternity with his third national title—only John Wooden, Adolph Rupp, Bobby Knight and Mike Krzyzewski have won three or more. Calhoun delivered a masterful coaching performance throughout, especially a halftime adjustment to scrap the pick-and-roll and run Lamb and Walker off baseline screens for open shots. Butler coach Brad Stevens had pushed all the right buttons during the tournament, but he had no answer for Calhoun's savvy moves.
3.) Jeremy Lamb had his coming out party: As good as Walker has been (first team All-American, MVP of the Big East tournament, Most Outstanding Player of the NCAA tournament), the freshman guard from Norcross, Ga., was the key to UConn's win. After a scoreless first half, Lamb made nine of the Huskies' first 14 points in the second half to give UConn a lead it would never relinquish. The 6-foot-5 Lamb was tall enough to shoot over Butler's guards and joined Gerry McNamara, Marvin Williams and other recent freshmen who keyed a championship victory.
4.) Butler will be a regular contender going forward: Assuming Stevens stays loyal to the program that made him the hottest young coach in America, the Bulldogs will be back. Despite a cavalcade of blown layups and sloppy play, Stevens' squad never quit. Senior center Matt Howard epitomized Butler's game effort; after opening a nasty gash on his right leg in the second half, he returned and played till the final buzzer, bloodied and beaten but unbowed.
5.) UConn's postseason run is the greatest of all time: That CCNY championship I mentioned earlier? The Beavers set the standard for improbable postseason performances, winning seven consecutive elimination games in 1950 to capture the NCAA tournament and the National Invitational Tournament in the same year (in those days the NIT winner automatically went to the NCAA tournament). It took 61 years, but CCNY's run has finally been surpassed. UConn wheezed into the Big East tournament as a No. 9 seed, won five games in five days to win the conference tourney, then added six straight wins in the Big Dance for good measure. That's 11-0 in postseason play, literally the best mark any NCAA-eligible team could put up. It may not have been the prettiest title chase ever, but Kemba, Calhoun, and Co. earned every bit of their NCAA championship.
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