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Connecticut turns NCAA title dreams into reality by beating Butler, 53-41

Huskies hold Bulldogs to a record low 18.8% shooting in the lowest-scoring championship game since 1949. Kemba Walker wins the most outstanding player award.

April 04, 2011|By Shannon Ryan
  • UConn players pose for photographs with the NCAA trophy after defeating Butler, 53-41, in the championship game on Monday night at Reliant Stadium in Houston.
UConn players pose for photographs with the NCAA trophy after defeating… (Andy Lyons / Getty Images )

Reporting from Houston

Since arriving in Texas last week, Kemba Walker had visions.

Snipping nets. Hearing "One Shining Moment." Confetti floating around him.

While the scene is an annual tradition, Walker accurately imagined himself and his Huskies teammates in the sea of red, white and blue streamers that drifted onto the Reliant Stadium court Monday night after a 53-41 victory over Butler in a game that was more slugfest than slamfest.

"I feel like I'm dreaming," said Walker, who scored 16 points and won the most outstanding player award in front of an announced crowd of 70,376.

It was hard for anyone to envision, harder still for many to watch. It was the lowest-scoring championship game since 1949.

Butler forward Gordon Hayward's halfcourt shot clanging off the rim to lose a heartbreaker to Duke was the lasting memory from 2010's championship. This season's title game for the Bulldogs featured a number of misses — 52 to be exact — for Butler fans to stew over until fall.

The Bulldogs shot a record-low 18.8%, struggling against Connecticut's defensive length and taking shots that appeared aimed at Hinkle Fieldhouse.

Coach Jim Calhoun "just told us we'd have to out-will and outwork" Butler, said Connecticut center Alex Oriakhi, who finished with 11 points and 11 rebounds. He helped Connecticut outscore Butler, 26-2, in the paint.

The Bulldogs joined Michigan's Fab Five teams in 1992 and 1993 and Houston in 1983 and 1984 to lose consecutive championship games.

The victory places Calhoun in an elite group of coaches who have won three or more championships, joining Adolph Rupp, John Wooden, Bob Knight and Mike Krzyzewski. That might balance his legacy after he was involved in an NCAA investigation that will see him suspended three games next season — if he chooses to return for a 40th season.

"I love coaching, I love my team," he said.

Calhoun's Huskies made Butler work for every basket — all 12 out of 64 attempts.

Connecticut's 19 points at halftime, when it trailed by three, were the fewest by a team since 1960. Calhoun said he told his players in the locker room, "You're too good for this."

The Huskies found their stroke, hitting 41.7% after halftime. Butler went just six of 37 afterward.

Guard Shelvin Mack scored 13 points on four-of-15 shooting. Forward Matt Howard was just one of 13 from the floor for seven points.

Connecticut freshman guard Jeremy Lamb lifted the Huskies when they needed it, scoring all 12 of his points after halftime.

When the buzzer sounded, Walker ran to a corner of the court to soak up the cheers from adoring fans, while dazed Butler players walked toward the sideline.

It was almost just as Walker pictured it.

But who could have predicted the Huskies' dizzying season, which included an unranked preseason start, a Maui Invitational championship, a regular-season meltdown and a Big East tournament title with five wins in five days?

And now another banner to take home.

sryan@tribune.com

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