Butler Bulldogs 70, Va. Commonwealth Rams 62
Should we really be surprised?
I mean, yeah, it's a little crazy that Butler is back here again, but look at how they had to get here. Butler inherited the weakest of the four brackets--everyone who watched the Selection Show knew that the Southeast Regional wasn't that great, and it was anyone's guess who would come out of it.
But was it a surprise that in close games, it was the Bulldogs, the team that's already made one run to a championship, a team that never panics and always executes, that came up with the big play game after game?
Of course they needed some late game luck. Remember, it was Matt Howard with his putback at the buzzer that even got them to the second round. It was a bizarro ending against the Panthers that still doesn't make much sense two weeks later that punched their ticket to the Sweet 16. But down the stretch of close games, it was always their opponents (aside from that horrid foul late against Pitt) that seemed to self-destruct, while Butler stayed true to who they are--great defense, solid rebounding.
Against VCU, the same formula applied.
Plus-14 boards for Butler, including plus-9 offensive rebounds. Butler's shot wasn't falling (only 36% shooting from the field), so they got themselves to the free throw line (26 attempts, double that of VCU, and 20 makes), particularly Howard, who swished 11 of 12. And Shelvin Mack, the only Butler player who could get his shot going, keyed the critical run in the second half, knocking down five of six threes and eight of 11 shots en route to 24 points. Shawn Vanzant chipped in 11 points, but it was team rebounding by guys like Khyle Marshall (eight), Andrew Smith (seven), Ronald Nored (six) and Vanzant (five) that really was the biggest difference in this conference.
That was all they needed, even though the Rams still fought them tooth and nail until the final minutes. Jamie Skeen (27 points, 6 rebounds) and Bradford Burgess (15 points, 9 rebounds) were exceptional for VCU. But Joey Rodriguez shot 1 for 9 (although he distributed 7 assists) and Ed Nixon went 1 for 5. It was an extraordinary run by the Rams, but this time they just didn't have enough to finish it off. Their turn as Cinderella is over.
Butler? They can still smell that glass shoe from last year. This time they want it to fit.
Butler will play UConn (who beat Kentucky) in the title game.