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Butler is a Hollywood story, Indiana-style

Bulldogs don't mind being compared to the underdog team in ‘Hoosiers,' but they just want to beat Kansas State and go home to Indianapolis for the Final Four.

March 26, 2010|By Chris Foster

Reporting from Salt Lake City — Butler Coach Brad Stevens was a little taken aback during Wednesday's pre-West Regional news conference.

"Did you say loser's image?" Stevens said.

Told the question was about Butler's " Hoosiers" image, Stevens was relieved.

"I was like, ‘Boy, that's direct,' " Stevens said, then faster than you can say "Jimmy Chitwood," he launched into a pat answer: "If people want to think that about our team, then that's OK."

The talk will continue, and will be amplified, should Butler beat Kansas State on Saturday in the regional final and return to Indianapolis next week for a home game in the Final Four.

If that happens, the drumbeat might be so loud that Stevens and his team need to turn a deaf ear.

"We've never won a game based on destiny," Stevens said. But try to stop the comparisons.

"There's always going to be that connection with us to ‘Hoosiers,' " forward Matt Howard said. "Maybe for no other reason than we play in Hinkle Fieldhouse. I don't think we'll ever get rid of that."

There are some good reasons.

_Hinkle Fieldhouse is where the fictional Hickory Hucksters won the Indiana state championship on Chitwood's last-second shot.

_Butler forward Gordon Hayward scored the game-winner in the final seconds to give Brownsburg High the Indiana state championship two years ago.

_Bobby Plump, the real-life model for the Chitwood character, played basketball at Butler, and was on its first NIT team in 1958.

_The Bulldogs (31-4) come into this game as underdogs, with few thinking they can beat second-seeded Kansas State.

So roll the film and cue the actors.

"We have heard that 1,000 times," Hayward said. "If people are having fun with it, that's fine. We know who we are."

That image, though, is changing.

Butler was conspicuously absent from the traditional " Cinderella" talk when it started after the first round. Instead, Cornell, St. Mary's and Northern Iowa cornered that market.

The Bulldogs, with a winning streak that has now reached 23 games and some past tournament success, were left out.

"Maybe that's a good thing," Howard said. "Maybe people are looking at us in a more favorable light. Even though they may think we can't win, we're also not the Cinderella story anymore."

Still, the Bulldogs don't mind dusting off that image.

"I don't think there is pressure on us to win," Howard said. "We're not supposed to. Other than our fans and community, very few people expected us to be here."

Kansas State (29-7) had its own doubters. The Wildcats last made it to a regional final in 1988 and haven't appeared in a Final Four since 1964, two years before Coach Frank Martin was born.

"It's hard not to think about cutting down the nets," Kansas State guard Jacob Pullen said. "It's hard not to think about going to the Final Four. But we still have work to do."

The Wildcats were extended to double overtime in outlasting Xavier on Thursday night, after which, "I stayed up all night thinking about what's ahead," forward Curtis Kelly said.

What's ahead is Butler, which is trying to write a Hoosier happy ending.

"We knew the Final Four was in Indianapolis," Howard said. "When we sat down and made goals, we said, ‘Why not shoot for the ultimate goal?' "

chris.foster@latimes.com

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