Butler, Duke to meet for national title
INDIANAPOLIS – It’s not easy keeping up with Butler, which keeps finding new ways to win games.
Take away the 3-pointers and the Bulldogs drive to the basket. Shut down the offense and they lock down on defense. Challenge them on the glass and they’ll go toe-to-toe against the nation’s best.
An uncanny ability to adapt is the reason Butler will play for a national title Monday night.
The Bulldogs overcame ice-cold shooting and injuries to two starters, then relied on only two players to carry the scoring load to beat Michigan State 52-50 Saturday night.
“I thought it was fitting that we had to get a defensive stop on that last possession of the game because that’s how we’ve won all season,” forward Gordon Hayward said. “We had to win the Butler way.”
But the way Butler won this time certainly deviated from the typical script.
They shot just 30.6 percent from the field after making 42.1 percent this season. Instead of relying on 3-pointers, as they have all year, the Bulldogs (33-4) made just 5 of 21 in the game and were shut out from beyond the arc in the second half.
They finished the game without Matt Howard, the 2008-09 Horizon League player of the year, and guard Shelvin Mack, one of the catalysts in this incredible run. Howard left twice after a violent collision with two other players, while Mack left twice because of muscle spasms in his thighs.
Coach Brad Stevens wasn’t sure whether either would play against Duke or West Virginia in the title game.
For Butler, though, this is the norm.
The team resembles an amoeba, constantly making adjustments and reshaping its image, as it did again Saturday.
This time, the Bulldogs went mano-a-mano inside – something even the bigger, stronger Big Ten foes couldn’t do to Michigan State – and they did it despite getting just 15 minutes out of Howard, their best post player.
“It was one of the more physical game we’ve been involved in, and playing in the Big Ten, that’s saying something,” Spartans coach Tom Izzo said after losing his first NCAA tourney game ever in Indy. “They play as hard as anybody we’ve played. They are physical.”
The Bulldogs battled one of the nation’s top rebounding teams to a virtual draw, 36-32, and actually took away Michigan State’s customary advantage on the offensive glass. Butler won that contest 11-8.
The result was as shocking as it was to see the hometown team reach the championship game after making just one basket in the final 12:18.
“I don’t know if words can explain what everybody is feeling right now, to be in the national championship game when nobody gave us a chance at all,” Butler guard Willie Veasley said. “That’s what we do. We get stops when we need them. We’ve done that all year. When we need them, we get them, five guys buckle down together and that’s what we did at the end of the game.”
Players weren’t the only ones making adjustments.
Coach Brad Stevens captivated outsiders all week with his cool demeanor, which changed in front of 70,000 fans inside the dome.
Just 6 1/2 minutes into the game, an official turned to Stevens and twice signaled for him to stop complaining. Fourteen seconds later, when Howard was called for his second foul, Stevens stomped his foot on the floor and threw his hands into the air. And when Mack drove in for a layup and drew a foul, Stevens fell to one knee as the ball dropped through the net.
But the 33-year-old baby-faced coach reverted to form in the second half, when Butler struggled offensively, and the Bulldogs responded the way they usually do – extending the nation’s longest winning streak to 25 to move within one game of an improbable championship.
“Where there’s a will there’s a way and somehow we keep finding it,” guard Zach Hahn said.
Duke 78, West Virginia 57
INDIANAPOLIS- They don’t call ’em the Devils for nothing.
After a thorough squashing of one feel-good story, the Duke Blue Devils get to go after another.
Jon Scheyer scored 23 points Saturday night to lift Duke, the team so many folks love to hate, to a 78-57 victory over West Virginia and set up a meeting against tiny Butler in a classic matchup of big vs. little, with the national title on the line.
In a tournament turned upside down, the Blue Devils (34-5) were the only top seed to make it to the Final Four. The trip wasn’t totally predictable or expected. Duke had gone six long years since its last appearance and hasn’t been to the final since winning it all nine years ago – a veritable century by Tobacco Road standards.
But coach Mike Krzyzewski’s team is back after a wire-to-wire pullaway from West Virginia (31-7), coached by alum Bob Huggins, who led the Mountaineers on a 10-game winning streak that ended with a trip to the Final Four for the first time in 51 years, back in the Jerry West era.
“We had a lot of preparing time to slow them down a little bit,” Krzyzewski said. “With one or two days, I’m not sure we would have done as good a job.”
Huggins returned to West Virginia to bring an elusive title back home to a state that loves its flagship school like few others. But any chance of that ended with 8:59 left, when the Mountaineers’ star, Da’Sean Butler, wrecked his left knee and, to add insult to injury, got called for a charge as he crumpled to the ground.
The sequence left him writhing in pain under the basket and his coach, the Huggy Bear, came out to the floor, first to yell at the refs, then to kneel down and tenderly cup the head of his star – the player who, more than anyone, made this run possible.
Butler, a 17-point-per-game scorer, finished with 10 points, and was held to a mere basket in the first half while the Blue Devils were building their lead to as many as 13. Wellington Smith led the Mountaineers with 12 points.
Duke stayed on a road that could lead to the school’s fourth championship despite the lack of a true superstar or an NBA lottery pick – no Christian Laettners or Shane Battiers or Grant Hills on this squad.
Instead, this is a group of players who do what they do well and fill their roles perfectly.
Kyle Singler scored 21 points for the Blue Devils and Nolan Smith added 19 points and six assists, a pair of performances that, added to Scheyer’s, showed exactly how good Duke can be when everyone’s playing well on the same night.
Brian Zoubek, all 7-foot-1 of him, clogged up the middle, along with 6-10 brothers Mason and Miles Plumlee. Zoubek finished with 10 rebounds, five on the offensive glass.
The Blue Devils won a lot of games this season on defense and rebounding, not that un-Duke-like 44 percent shooting, good for eighth in the 12-team Atlantic Coast Conference.
On Saturday, Duke showed what it can be like when the shots are dropping. Shredding West Virginia’s ballyhooed 1-3-1 zone trap, the Blue Devils made 52.7 percent. Singler, coming off an 0-for-10 performance in the regional victory over Baylor, went 8 for 16. Scheyer, who was 1 for 11 in a win over Cal the first weekend, went 7 for 13.
“Yeah, it was a great team effort today,” Scheyer said. “West Virginia’s a great team. We did it the same way, with defense, rebounding.”
Not surprisingly, West Virginia had few answers. Joe Mazzulla, who scored a career-high 17 points to lift the Mountaineers to their upset over Kentucky in the East Regional, finished with only four in this one and had to wear a new uniform after Zoubek drew blood while conking him on the head early in the game.
Mazzulla was starting in place of injured point guard Darryl “Truck” Bryant, who broke his right foot earlier in the tournament and had held out slim hope of playing in Indy. Hard to imagine his presence would have changed much.
The final 10 minutes were played in front of a quickly thinning crowd at Lucas Oil Stadium, the majority of whom had come to see Butler’s 52-50 win over Michigan State earlier in the night.
Those who stayed might not have liked what’s coming next. And those who think Duke has been humbled by its championship drought will certainly look at the replays of Miles Plumlee hanging on the rim way too long after a dunk that drew a technical foul, but also put his team up by 14.
A bit of showmanship for a program that routinely has been dissed across America as being too arrogant, too this, too that.
The theme came up again, predictably, this week, on several fronts – including the retraction of an illustration of Krzyzewski on the front of the Indianapolis Star sports section with horns and a target scribbled onto his head.
Coach K’s response to all that: If you want to hate us because we have kids who go to school, graduate, play solid, team ball and win a lot, go ahead.
They do all that, but they’re winning in a different way this year.
They’re without a single superstar, but with an emotional center in Smith, who finds himself back in the city where his father, Derek, led Louisville to a championship back in 1980.
Derek Smith died of a heart attack at age 34, when Nolan was 8, and the guard is just coming around to talking about it.
The Duke people might argue that, given Smith’s history, a title in Indianapolis would only be fitting.
There’s another team, the hometown Butler Bulldogs, who will argue the very same thing.
May the best team win.
Secret Witness turns 40 this year – and it’s helped solve many of Northern Nevada’s most violent crimes
Secret Witness tips have played a pivotal role in solving some of the most violent crimes the greater Northern Nevada region has seen. To date, Secret Witness has paid out more than $300,000 in rewards to anonymous tipsters. Rewards range from $50 (graffiti/tagging) to $1,500 (armed robbery) to $2,500 (murder).