The University of Connecticut claimed its third men’s college basketball championship as Butler University had the worst title game shooting performance in the 73-year history of the national tournament.
Connecticut beat Butler 53-41 last night at Reliant Stadium in Houston, outscoring the Bulldogs 34-19 during the second half. Butler was held to 19 percent shooting, hitting 12 of 64 shots. The Bulldogs made only three 2-point baskets.
The previous worst shooting display in the title game of the National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament was a 21.5 percent effort by Washington State in 1941.
“We knew that we could really defend them,” Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun said during the trophy presentation ceremony. “The major adjustment was we were going to out-will them and outwork them, and eventually we outplayed them.”
Calhoun, 68, is the oldest coach to win a championship and becomes the fifth coach to win the NCAA tournament three or more times. He joins John Wooden (10), Adolph Rupp (4), Mike Krzyzewski (4) and Bob Knight (3). Calhoun also led UConn to national titles in 1999 and 2004.
Kemba Walker scored 16 points and freshman Jeremy Lamb had all 12 of his points in the second half for Connecticut, which finished with the lowest title game point total for a champion since 1949, when Kentucky beat Oklahoma State 46-36.
That was also the last championship game in which the teams combined to score fewer than 100 points.
“Credit UConn for defending the way they do,” Butler coach Brad Stevens said at a news conference. “They challenged shots better than any team we played all year.”
Butler Falls Short
Butler was again denied a chance to become the first national champion from outside college sports’ six major conferences since the University of Nevada, Las Vegas in 1990.
The Bulldogs, from the Horizon League, are the first team to lose consecutive title games since the University of Michigan’s squads led by the “Fab Five” in 1992-93. Butler lost to Duke 61-59 in last year’s title game.
“It’s very frustrating when you have your chances and you let it slip away,” said Butler guard Shelvin Mack, who had a team-leading 13 points on 4-of-15 shooting. “The ball just wasn’t falling in.”
Bulldogs senior forward Matt Howard missed 12 of 13 shots and finished with seven points in his final college game.
Connecticut’s latest championship caps a stretch in which the Huskies won 11 consecutive games in less than a month.
UConn started its late-season run by winning five games in five days to capture the Big East conference tournament title last month. The Huskies then won six straight games in the NCAA tournament to become the first No. 3 regional seed to capture the title since Florida in 2006.
“We had a lot of doubters,” said Walker, who hit five of 19 shots against Butler and added nine rebounds. “The Big East tournament we came out strong and we got a lot of confidence and kind of felt unstoppable. We were right, we were unstoppable and now we’re national champions.”
The lowest-scoring title game in 62 years closed out one of the most unpredictable NCAA tournaments in history.
It was the first time the championship game didn’t feature a No. 1 or No. 2 regional seed since the tournament started ranking teams in 1979. The 18 combined losses for UConn and Butler coming into last night were the most for the title game participants.
Indianapolis-based Butler, which was a No. 8 seed, was seeking to match the 1985 Villanova Wildcats as the lowest-ranked team to win the national championship.
Both teams struggled from the opening tip, combining to hit three of their first 20 shots.
Butler had a 22-19 halftime lead and pushed its advantage to six points less than a minute into the second half.
Connecticut then went on a 22-3 scoring run to take control, as the Bulldogs had stretches of 7 minutes, 8 seconds and 6:19 during which they failed to make a basket.
Calhoun, holding the trophy amid falling confetti, said the championship may be the “happiest moment of my life.”
NCAA Recruiting Violations
Connecticut finished in ninth place in the Big East and the program was investigated this season for NCAA recruiting violations involving Nate Miles, who was expelled from the school before playing a game for the Huskies.
Calhoun, inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2005, received a three-game suspension from the NCAA, a ban he’ll serve at the start of next season.
“The joy the kids gave me, the inability to ever give in, that’s what I got into 40-some years ago when I became a high school coach,” Calhoun said. “I couldn’t ask for a better gift. It reaffirms everything I’ve done in my profession. This is as sweet a ride as I’ve ever been on in my life.”