By Brian Willwerth
We started with 68 teams.We are down to two.
Gone are the Jayhawks, Patriots, Terriers, Sycamores and Orange. All that remain are two groups of dogs: a burly bunch of bulldogs from Butler, and a hungry group of huskies from Connecticut. Butler and UConn clinched their spots in the title game Saturday night by defeating VCU and Kentucky, respectively.
We’ll start with the nightcap: a coaching matchup between Jim Calhoun and John Calipari. The Huskies held on for a 56-55 win. Both teams struggled from the floor. The Wildcats shot just [33%] for the game, while Connecticut was just [1-for-12] from behind the arc.
Still, you can’t talk about a UConn victory without mentioning Kemba Walker. He led both teams in scoring with 18 points, while adding six rebounds and seven assists. Still, the Huskies had to hold their breath as a three-point attempt by Kentucky’s DeAndre Liggins in the closing seconds fell short. Shabazz Napier iced the game with two free-throws at the other end. Brandon Knight led the Wildcats with 17 points.
This is Connecticut’s third trip to the final. The last two times the Huskies were there [1999 and 2004] they won the national championship.
Their opponent will be the team that nearly won it all last year. Butler ended VCU’s “Cinderella run” with a 70-62 victory over the Rams. After weathering an early barrage of three-pointers, the Bulldogs were able to cool off the Rams’ hot outside shooters with the type of defense Butler has become known for. Butler also controlled the glass, out-rebounding VCU, 48-32.
Offensively, the Bulldogs relied heavily on Shelvin Mack, who finished with a team-high, 24 points. VCU’s Jamie Skeen led all scorers with 27. Butler took a six-point lead into the locker room. The game would stay tight for much of the second half. It wasn’t until the three-minute mark that Butler was able to open up a 7-point lead, a deficit the Rams could not recover from.
Butler returns to the title game for the second straight year. Who could forget the Bulldogs’ appearance in last year’s title game: that last-second heave that bounced off the rim that would’ve beaten Duke.
So it all comes down to Monday night: Bulldogs and Huskies for the national championship. It should be one heck of a dogfight.