HOUSTON – UConn’s 53-41 win over Butler on Monday night will go down as one of the ugliest national title games in the history of the sport. For the first time in 50 years, a team failed to break the 50 point barrier in the championship game.
It’s easy to figure out why.
Butler shot 12-64 from the floor. For the game. That’s 18.8 percent. They were 9-33 from beyond the arc, which was actually a marked improvement from the 3-31 that the Bulldogs shot from inside the arc. Throw in the 8-14 that the Bulldogs shot from the foul line, and its pretty evident that what cost the Bulldogs tonight was their inability to put the ball in the basket. We can use all the advance statistics and tempo-free analysis to break down what happened in a game, but at the end of the day the team that wins is the one that scores more points.
And if you ain’t scoring, you ain’t winning.
“Without question, you know, 41 points, 12 of 64 is not good enough to win any game, let alone the national championship game,” Butler head coach Brad Stevens said after the game.
“I thought we got decent looks in the second half. We just missed quite a few. Credit UConn for defending the way they do because I thought they challenged shots better than any team we’ve played all year.”
That was the difference.
Butler actually did not execute terribly on the offensive end of the floor. They were getting shots in and around the rim. They were getting pretty good looks from the perimeter. They turned the ball over just six times. They managed to corral 20 of their misses.
So why were the Bulldogs missing?
Some of it was mental. It isn’t humanly possible for a college kid on a stage this big to miss a couple of shots and not have it the pressure creep into the back of his head. And its tough to fault them for that.
But much of the blame — or credit — falls on UConn. The Huskies were, simply, longer and more athletic than Butler. They blocked 10 shots and changed countless other. I’d be willing to bet that Butler missed more layups than the number of field goals they made (12). Matt Howard finished the game 1-13 from the floor, and that one was a three pointer. Andrew Smith was just 2-9 from the field. As a team, Butler managed just two points in the paint, and those came on a layup from Andrew Smith off of an offensive rebound with 6:43 left in the game.
“I definitely think our length bothered them a lot,” Alex Oriakhi told reporters after the game. “Roscoe [Smith], myself and Charles [Okwandu] are pretty good shot blockers. Anytime they was able to drive into the lane, we tried to alter a shot or block it. I definitely think we was able to do that. That affected them throughout the whole game.”
But it was more than just changing shots around the rim.
What made UConn’s defense so difficult to score against is how well they recovered on the perimeter.
It may have been difficult to see on television, but the Huskies were able to challenge seemingly every jumper that Butler had on the perimeter. Guys like Shabazz Napier, Jeremy Lamb, and Kemba were terrific closing out on shooters.
Lamb, in particular, deserves praise for the performance he had against Shelvin Mack. The lanky, 6’5″ freshman isn’t exactly known as defensive stopper. Yes, he uses his length, quickness, and anticipation to make plays in the passing lanes. But when you are talking about one-on-one, on the ball defense, Napier is generally the best on the UConn team, with Kemba falling close behind.
But it was Lamb that got the ball against Mack. And it was Lamb that delivered. Mack finished the game with just 13 points on 4-15 shooting. All four of those field goals came from beyond the arc. Two of those threes — the first field goal that Mack had with 4:00 left in the first half and the second field goal he hit, at the halftime buzzer — came when Donnell Beverly was guarding Mack because Lamb was on the bench in foul trouble.
That was the difference tonight.
Butler never got comfortable on the offensive end of the floor due to UConn’s length.
And it won UConn the national title.