By now, Butler fans have had time to digest the confounding nightmare that was Monday night. You’ve likely found the silver lining:
Butler’s wretched 53-41 losing effort in the 2011 NCAA men’s basketball national championship game against Connecticut will never trump the success the Bulldogs have had, and the team’s ability to capture the hearts of college basketball fans, over the past two seasons.
The way Butler lost does not accurately reflect Butler’s season. Matt Howard, Shelvin Mack and their Butler Bulldogs deserved a better ending. This much is true. But you can’t deny what happened Monday night:
The 2011 national championship game was awful. Inexplicably and historically awful. Yet, it was also remarkable.
Remember what you saw--even revel in the awfulness if you have to--because you'll likely never see a worse championship game in your lifetime.
The astounding and constant stream of bricks, turnovers and errant passes will never be matched on this level. You will never see a group of college basketball players manage to clank wide-open layups underneath the rim possession after possession after possession.
Watching these towering, elite college athletes miss so many bunny shots was, again, remarkable. Missing those shots seemed harder than making them.
Surely, Andrew Smith couldn’t miss another point-blank shot for Butler. Oh, no, he did. Did that did just happen before my eyes?
We witnessed history, even if it was ugly.
As CBS analyst Greg Anthony said at halftime: “This was the worst half of basketball I’ve ever seen in a national championship game.”
Not only were his comments true, but sadly the most impressive performance of the night at the time.
The first half so unbelievably lacked anything that resembled college basketball at its supposed highest level, I wouldn’t have been surprised if CBS got Ruben Studdard’s agent on the phone and requested the former American Idol winner to re-record “One Shining Moment” in his best Luther Vandross impersonation to better reflect the contest:
“The ball is tipped…
And there’s a brick…
Followed by a brick…
Oh, God, another brick…”
Nor would I have been surprised to find video of James Downey gathering both teams in one locker room at the half to rephrase his memorable Billy Madison monologue, but with a twist:
“Butler and Connecticut, at no point in your fumbling, incoherent execution of the past 20 minutes of regulation, were you even close to anything that could be considered basketball. Everyone in this stadium is now dumber for having watched it. I award you a combined 41 points, the lowest combined points for a first half in a national championship game since 1946. May God have mercy on your soul.”
The debauchery of the game was only matched by CBS’s inexplicably poor editing choice to show a replay of Kemba Walker clearly screaming the F-Bomb—in slow motion!—before commercial break at the half.
Why would CBS show that? What’s going on? Can we start over?
By the time the second half rolled around, CBS co-analyst Clark Kellogg, who looked liked co-analyst Steve Kerr had told him it was time to put Old Yeller down, could only muster: “I think there’s going to be some shot making in the second half.”
The college basketball world had fallen into a collective depression like we’ve never seen before.
It was astonishing.
Unfortunately for Butler, things got worse.
UConn executed “some shot making” at an OK but not remarkable pace (34.5 percent overall, only 1 for 11 behind the 3-point line) while the Bulldogs continued to flounder in spectacular, historical fashion.
You know the harrowing statistics already. They are as familiar now as Howard’s flopping brown curls tipping over his ears:
- Butler only scored three 2-point field goals the whole game for an unbelievable 9.7 percent, the worst in championship game history.
- Butler only scored 41 points in the game, the lowest in a championship game since 1949.
- Butler’s overall field goal shooting percentage (12 of 64) was 18.8, the worst in championship history.
Coaches Jim Calhoun and Brad Stevens painted the game as a defensive battle, but for those who watched, images of Howard (one for 13 with six rebounds) and Smith (five points and nine rebounds) missing gimme shot after gimme shot is forever burned in their memories.
And as much as Butler’s defense has been praised this tournament, the Bulldogs couldn’t stop UConn’s front line.
The Huskies outscored their opponents in the paint 26 to 2.
Butler fans can only hope that one day their beloved team will laugh about this horrid Monday night and remember the good times steam rolling through the past two NCAA tournaments.
“I guess we ran out of steam. Nobody could make (shots),” Butler guard Zach Hahn said.
Even so, the landmarks reached by Stevens’ squads the past two seasons greatly overshadow Monday night’s national championship no show:
- They were the first Indiana team in the state’s lauded college basketball history to go to back-to-back Final Fours.
- They combined for 61 wins in the past two seasons.
- They were 10-2 in the last two national tournaments and were the first unranked team to make the championship game since Danny Manning and his 1988 Kansas Jayhawks.
- They upset a slew of higher seeds on their journey to back-to-back title game appearances. (No. 1 Pittsburgh and No. 2 Florida this year. No. 1 Syracuse and No. 2 Kansas State last year.)
- They became only the fifth team in 21 years to play in back-to-back championship games, joining Florida (’06, ’07) and Michigan (’92, ’93) as well as Duke and Kentucky, which made a run to the finals three years in a row: ’90-’92 and ’96-’98, respectively.
As Stevens said about his team after the loss, “What they’ve done for Butler and what they’ve meant to Butler, you can’t even put it into words. I‘m not sure you can put it into words for the sport.”
This much is true, too.
Although I’m not sure anyone will be able to put into words whatever the hell happened Monday night.
But it was memorable… for all the wrong reasons.