The NCAA championship game between UCONN and Butler wasn’t the type of contest millions of college basketball fans envisioned it to be. Since there weren’t many dunks or tons of shots made, college basketball experts and fans believed that the national championship game was a failure and labeled UCONN’s third championship win in 12 years “ugly.” Several college basketball experts gave little credit to both defenses as the two clubs struggled to hit their normal baskets. To suggest anything other than what great defensive efforts both programs displayed Monday night as the UCONN Huskies defeated the Butler Bulldogs 53-41, and then go on to describe the contest as being “ugly” is foolish. The many ‘experts’ who claim to understand the game of basketball should have their expertise questioned because good defense is not ugly.
“Butler really plays defense,” said UCONN head coach Jim Calhoun, who became the oldest coach to win a NCAA championship at the age of 68. “I mean, they really play defense. And we really play defense, and I think eventually our quickness and length got to them, but from a purist standpoint, if you really like defense, take a clip of this game.”
Calhoun nailed it on the head. UCONN and Butler were both out of sync due to the defense they played against each other. Every shot was contested and there was rarely a bad shot taken. But ultimately, UCONN was superb as they forced Butler to shoot from the outside. The Huskies’ bigs overpowered, outsized and intimidated the Bulldogs from entering the paint as the Big East squad had four steals and 10 blocks. 12-for-64 shooting was the tale of the tape for the game as the defense reared its head, not the ugly duckling.
“So you need to understand that defense is going to take you and hold you in the game until your offense gets going, and that’s what I think happened tonight,” said Calhoun.
If Butler had shot the way they normally do – they were deadly from downtown throughout the tournament – the championship game would have been different, though the outcome still questionable. Butler’s 18.8 shooting percentage was the worst in NCAA championship title game history.
“You just hope the shots go in,” said Butler guard Zach Hahn. “That’s how it’s been all tournament. Whenever we needed a big shot, somebody came up with it. I guess we just ran out of steam. Nobody could make ‘em.”
Butler guard Shelvin Mack, who nailed a last-second three pointer as the buzzer sounded the end of the first half, credited UCONN’s ability as the factor that made their shots difficult to make.
“They’re very athletic,” said Mack, who finished 13 points off 4 for 15 shooting. “They would contest shots that people normally wouldn’t be able to contest.”
The Final Four is one of the country’s most anticipated events each year and the idea of having a football stadium host the tournament games may be a great idea after all. The championship game was held at Reliant Stadium, home of the Houston Texans. This provided many college basketball fans the opportunity to afford tickets to the Final Four and title game. This is great considering that, if the games had been held in NBA arenas, ticket prices would be priced much higher because of the limited seating. To attract 75,000 fans is huge for a basketball game. Interestingly, the used basket rims that were transported there for the game are tighter than normal (and aren’t used much). These rims were unforgiving for both teams as countless shots throughout the contest went in, but then raddled back out.
Despite Butler’s great defense against UCONN – they physically cut off the driving lanes for guard Kemba Walker, who struggled to score, finishing with 16 points off 5-for-19 shooting – the Huskies never gave up and believed that their shots would eventually drop.
“It was tough shooting in the first half, but in the second half, we stuck with each other,” said Walker. “We told each other we were going to make shots, and that’s what we did…Every time we play hard, great things always happen to us.”
The Huskies shot 34.5 percent as they went 19 for 55 shooting. Both squads played great defense and didn’t allow each other to do what they were accustomed to doing.
Defense isn’t ugly; it’s a beautiful thing when it’s played correctly. It didn’t matter that one team was a national power and the other was a mid-major playing against each other Monday night. Great basketball was on display. It’s too bad most college basketball experts and fans don’t know basketball, after all.