Final Four: Butler 70, VCU 62
By Nancy Armour
HOUSTON óMaybe this time that final, riveting shot will go in.
Maybe this time Butler wonít need it.
The Bulldogs are back in the national title game, not as lovable underdogs but as a team intent on making up for last yearís heartbreak.
ěWeíve just got to be one shot better than last year,î coach Brad Stevens said after Butlerís 70-62 victory over VCU on Saturday night that put the Bulldogs back in the national title game and ended the warm-and-fuzzy story of this yearís tournament.
Shelvin Mack scored 24 points, Zach Hahn came up big off the bench and the Bulldogs shut VCU down with their trademark unforgiving defense. The eighth-seeded Bulldogs (28-9) will face the winner of Kentucky-Connecticut on Monday night, the first time since Kentucky in 1998 that the runner-up has returned to play for the championship.
As the players walked down the hall to the locker room, one shouted out: ěWeíre not done yet! Unfinished business, baby!î
ěLast year we didnít get it done, so thatís in the back of my mind,î said Mack, who earlier this week said national runners-up was just another way of saying ěfirst losers.î ěMy teammates did a great job of getting me the ball in position to have success.î
Hahn scored all eight points of his points during a 90-second span in the second half that gave Butler control of the game for good.
VCU (28-12) sure didnít look like a team critics dismissed as ěunworthyî ó and a whole lot worse ó after it skidded into the NCAA tournament with five losses in its last eight games. But Butlerís unforgiving defense was too much for the Rams, only the third No. 11 seed to reach the Final Four.
ěButler was the aggressor for the majority of the game,î VCU coach Shaka Smart said. ěWe had our runs.î
But not enough of them.
Jamie Skeen scored 27 and Bradford Burgess had 15, including three 3-pointers before the game was even four minutes old. But Stevens tweaked Butlerís defense, and Burgess had just one more three.
VCU was just 8 of 22 from long range, though that was still enough to set the NCAA record for most 3s in a tournament with 61. But Brandon Rozzell, who tied his career high with six treys against Georgetown, was 0 for 3. Point guard Joey Rodriguez didnít make a shot until 8:30 left in the game, finishing with only three points on 1-of-7 shooting.
Butler also dominated the boards, outrebounding VCU 48-32.
The defense ó and the big night by Mack ó made up for a lackluster showing by leading scorer and rebounder Matt Howard. The senior had 17 points, but shot just 3-of-10 and picked up his fourth foul with 9:22 left.
After falling behind 34-28 at the half, the first time in the NCAA tournament they trailed at halftime, VCU reeled off five quick points to take a 35-34 lead. Then it was time for a little game of ěCan you top this?î, starring Hahn.
Skeen made a 3 and Hahn answered back with one that didnít even rustle the strings of the net. Skeen converted a three-point play, and Hahn made another 3. Brandon Rozzell, who tied his career high with six 3-pointers against Georgetown, showed he can score from inside, too, with a layup, only to have Hahn ó who else? ó make a reverse that put Butler in front 44-43 with 12:20 left.
Butler clamped down on the Rams, not allowing another field goal for more than three minutes. Meanwhile Mack, who earned most outstanding player honors in the Southeast Regional, showed off his dazzling skills yet again. He made back-to-back 3-pointers and then a layup to give Butler a 52-45 lead with 9:41 to play, and the game was all but over.
But led by Smart, their cool and charismatic 33-year-old coach, they showed the little guys can play with anybody, anytime.
ěWeíre just a big family. This whole season was great. It was a great run. We made history. We kept making history,î Skeen said. ěWe went deep into the tournament and did what everyone said we couldnít do.î