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From the Bird’s Nest: Give UCONN credit

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images Sport

This just in from Indianapolis.  There will be no more ringing of church bells in the city.  From now on, churches will simply play an audio recording of Butler field goal attemps clanging off the rim.

So much has been made of Butler’s anemic shooting during last night’s championship game and rightfully so.  The Bulldogs simply couldn’t make a shot.  Any shot.  They scored two points in the paint.  Um….two.  They missed from close in.  They missed from midrange.  They missed from beyond the arc. 

And, as everyone continued to be infatuated with the Bulldogs’ story, the vibe is that Connecticut is the National Champion today because Butler couldn’t make shots.

Very few point out that Connecticut was the main reason for that.

First of all, can we back off on Brad Stevens’ election to sainthood for just a minute?  Stevens can coach.  He’s led a mid-major program to the title game two years in a row.  But, as pointed out yesterday, Butler, although capable from beyond the arc, hasn’t made the three point shot a major part of their success.  So what did they do last night?  They shot 33 of them.  At Reliant Stadium, where depth perception made all of the games painful if the three pointer is your cup of tea.

And, it’s not like Butler started to do that when two pointers wouldn’t fall.  They came out firing from the get-go.  That simply isn’t Butler’s game.

But maybe Stevens is brilliant, after all.  Because when the Bulldogs did go inside, Connecticut was ready.  More than ready.  Alex Oriakhi and Roscoe Smith were there to bat away shots.  And, Butler got tentative.  CBS’ Clark Kellogg correctly pointed out that some of Butler’s missed shots were open shots.  But by that time, Butler’s inside players had become so tentative that every time they put up a shot, they were waiting for some big hand to swat it away.  How else to you explain three foot shots that were six inches short of the rim.  That’s playing tentative.

And, that’s what Connecticut’s defense did.

Andrew Smith was 2-9, despite all of his attempts within five feet of the basket.  Matt Howard was 1-13.  He scored the only two points in the paint that Butler had all night.

Butler’s defense kept them in the game for about 28 minutes.  The Bulldogs were, well, bulldogs on the defensive end.  But in the second half, UCONN’s halftime adjustments paid dividends.  Jeremy Lamb, on the bench a good part of the first half with two fouls, finally got the Huskies into a scoring rhythm.  And when that happened, it was over.

Meanwhile, Butler continued to rain three point shots.  And, continued to miss them.  Shelvin Mack, who was oh so good during the tournament, was a non factor after his three pointer at the buzzer gave Butler the lead at halftime.  Mack hit 4-15 shots.  He only attempted four shots inside the arc, and missed them all.  He, like the rest of the perimeter, were content to clang three pointers.

When all was said and done, UCONN, the tournament champion of the best conference in America, won by playing Big East basketball. 

And, in the process, reduced Butler back to the status of a mid-major school.

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