The 2011 NCAA Tournament is over. Connecticut beat Butler 53-41. It’s UConn’s third title, all three since 1999. This also makes Jim Calhoun the fifth coach—along with Mike Krzyzewski, Bob Knight, Adolph Rupp, and John Wooden—to win three national championships. At 69, Calhoun also becomes the oldest coach to win a national championship.
So, how will we remember this game?
UConn caps off the greatest postseason run in college basketball history with possibly the greatest defensive performance in college basketball history
UConn was the nine-seed … in it’s own conference tournament. From March 8 to April 4, inspired by Kemba Walker (the best player in the country—sorry, Jimmer), they won 11 games in a row—winning the Big East and National Championships in the process. That’s 11 elimination games in a row. They also won three games earlier in the season to win the Maui Invitational. So, that’s 14 playoff-type wins in 14 elimination games. Outside of games they had to win, UConn was 18-9. Some teams play their best only once their backs are pushed up against the wall. And with the way college basketball is built, there’s not much more you need.
In winning, the Huskies held Butler to 18.8 percent shooting—the lowest in the history of the national championship game. Their interior defense suffocated the Bulldogs, who only made three—three!—two-pointers in the entire game. They only gave up 41 points, the lowest in the championship since the shot clock was invented. It’s a defensive performance we’ll remember forever—well, we would, if anyone really cared about defense in basketball.
But there’s another way to look at it:
Butler falls victim to a historically bad shooting performance
There are two sides to every game. It’s the old cliché you’ve heard a million times. But it’s never been truer.
Butler missed 52 shots last night.
Team leader and famous sock-wearer, Matt Howard, shot 1 for 13. Shelvin Mack, Butler’s leading scorer, went 4 for 15. Chase Stigall was their most accurate shooter. He shot 27 percent. Almost nothing went in. Sure, maybe the dome played a part, but it really seemed like they were playing on a smaller rim.
For Butler, last night was like one of those bad dreams when you keep waking up, only to find yourself in an even scarier dream each time you think you come to. For everything that UConn “stifled,” “held,” and “prevented,” Butler “failed to make,” “missed,” and “blew” it all the same.
As always, the truth is somewhere in between. UConn’s defense was unbelievable. But, at the same time, so was Butler’s inability to put the ball through the rim. UConn won. Five years from now, that’s what we’ll know.
In all, this was the best NCAA tournament of my lifetime—and probably the best ever. It was so good because it kept throwing us off. Not one thing—well, maybe Pittsburgh’s collapse—was predictable about this tournament. And that’s what made it so great. What we thought would happen, never happened. Even last night.
No one thought Butler would have their worst game of the season—and, maybe, ever—in the national championship, especially since they were the veterans to UConn’s young squad. But that’s what this tournament was: moments that none of us foresaw, strung together over three weeks. Somehow, it seemed, every moment until last night gave us what we wanted.
Like the rest of the tournament, last night was a shocking stomach punch. Finally, it actually hurt.
—Photo AP/David J. Phillip