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Butler, Connecticut Win to Reach NCAA Basketball Final Four

Butler University will make its second consecutive appearance and the University of Connecticut will play for a fourth time in the national semifinals of college basketball’s men’s tournament.

Butler beat the University of Florida 74-71 in overtime yesterday and Connecticut defeated the University of Arizona 65-63 in the National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament.

No. 8 Butler will play the winner of today’s Southwest regional final, between No. 11 Virginia Commonwealth and Kansas, the only remaining No. 1 seed, for a place in the championship game.

“I’m incredibly proud of these guys -- they carried their coach today in a big way,” Butler coach Brad Stevens told reporters. “I got out-coached big time, but our assistants did a great job and our players did a great job.”

Connecticut, ranked third in the West, will play the winner of today’s East regional final, between No. 4 Kentucky and No. 2 North Carolina.

The Huskies (30-9) made the last of their three prior appearances in the national semifinals in 2009. Butler (27-9), which lost to Duke in last year’s national final, has never won the tournament, while Connecticut claimed the title twice, in 1999 and 2004.

Mack Seals Win

Butler overcame an 11-point second-half deficit and Matt Howard’s free throw with 31 seconds left in the second half tied the score at 60-60 before Florida’s Erving Walker missed a 3-point jumper for the win as time expired.

Shelvin Mack hit a 3-pointer with 1 minute, 20 seconds left in overtime to lift the Bulldogs to a 72-70 lead. Mack, who scored 27 points, sealed the victory with two free throws with 11 seconds to go at the New Orleans Arena in New Orleans.

“They did everything in their power physically, mentally and emotionally to try to win,” Florida coach Billy Donovan told reporters. “Hopefully our guys that are returning will have a chance to learn from this experience.”

Connecticut led 32-25 at halftime at the Honda Center in Anaheim. Arizona tied it at 34-34 with 15:17 to play and the teams traded the lead four more times before Connecticut went ahead for good on a Jeremy Lamb jump shot with 5:52 to play that made it 56-55.

‘Thrill Beyond Compare’

“This unique group of young guys have just given me a thrill beyond compare,” Huskies coach Jim Calhoun, who has won the NCAA title twice, told reporters. “Never could I imagine the team winning nine tournament games in 19 days.”

Jamelle Horne hit a 3-pointer to bring Arizona within two points with 1:02 left in the game. With four seconds to play, Arizona missed two attempts to score.

“To have two shots, both that could have won us the game, as hard and difficult as it is right now, I think we all, and I can live with that,” Arizona coach Sean Miller told reporters. “We move on.”

Kemba Walker led the Huskies with 20 points and Lamb added 19. Derrick Williams scored 20 points for Arizona.

“It’s not just Kemba Walker, it’s the overall team effort and poise that UConn has,” Miller said. Walker “is impossible to stop.”

The Final Four is scheduled for April 2-4 in Houston.

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