Tuesday, April 5, 2011

UConn Marches Beyond the Madness of Butler's Poor Shooting

UConn persevered over Brad Stevens-coached Butler 53-41 at Reliant Stadium to take the NCAA Men's Basketball Championship, Coach Jim Calhoun's third since 1999.

The scrappy #8 seed Butler from the heart of Basketball City, USA mustered a mere 18% shooting from the floor, eventually allowing the 34% of their opponents the margin necessary for victory. Kemba Walker (5-19, 16 points) has been the star of this tournament since his team's historic run commencing with their improbable 5 wins in 5 days to take the Big East Basketball Championship and earn an automatic berth to the Big Dance as a #3 seed.

Conventional wisdom spoke of the advantage of the contest leaning towards the front court of Butler's Matt Howard and Andrew Smith, as well as the maturity and depth of the bench of the Bulldogs. Allowing for the dominant play of the Huskies' Walker, the game was shaping up to be a battle between the "bigs" of Butler and the "quicks" of Connecticut's back court.

But it was UConn's front court of Tyler Olander, Roscoe Smith, and Alex Oriakhi (5-6, 11 points, 11 rebounds, 4 blocks) who intimidated, out-muscled, and out-hustled the blue-collar tandem of Butler's Howard (1-13, 6 points, 7 rebounds) and Smith (2-9, 5 points, 9 rebounds.) With the worst shooting performance in the tournament's championship game history, the Bulldogs would not have what it took, despite holding UConn to two separate five minute scoring droughts in the first half to lead 22 - 19 at intermission.

Butler opened up the first half with a Chase Stigall 3-pointer giving his team a 25 - 19 advantage. This bucket, together with the one by Shelvin Mack from long range to close out the first half as time expired, represented greater than 25% of the Bulldog's total offense for the game at that point. The Huskies scored the next seven straight points, and a Lamb steal punctuated with a fast-break dunk to make it 31 - 26 highlighted the dire straits of a Butler team that would suffer being outscored 14 - 1 during a dry-spell that saw them go in excess of seven minutes before making a field goal, and not another one before an additional six minutes!

In the end, it was the poise and leadership of UConn's Walker, the intimidation and defense by Oriakhi and Olander, and the X-factor of Lamb that proved to be too much for the deflated play and poor execution of what one can only charitably refer to as the offense of Butler.

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