Worst Shining Moment: Butler Performs Choke Job

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butler-lockerroomIf only Butler had won it. That alone would’ve been rated as one of the greatest stories in sports, as much as a nation roots for the underdogs and becomes attach to a Cinderella tale in the spring months. So what happened to the rough, vicious Bulldogs, an unexpected basketball program that dominated the month of March with their brutal fangs and ferociousness to shock the world again?

So how does Butler, a small university located outside of Indianapolis that earned fame nationally, reaches a climax and qualifies for the Final Four and knocks off its opponent to advance to the national championship game lose?? The maligned Bulldogs, all of which a leash was needed to restrain the toughest and most disciplined group of players, were viewed as the cutest tale when really the Bulldogs were worthy of being deemed a national power in college basketball.

It turned out, on a night that Butler performed the choke job and was unsuccessful in redeeming themselves following the heartbreaker a year ago against Duke in a grueling national championship game, that the Bulldogs were lifeless and deteriorated at the worst possible time. Matt Howard’s face was pale and he had a dispirited look, realizing that Butler had fallen short for the second straight season as he stood speechless.

The only difference this time is that he missed shots, from poor shot selections to ill-advised perimeter shots. Howard, who is a highly rated NBA prospect in this year’s NBA draft, was knocked to the floor in a collision and suffered a bloody right knee. He was frustrated and humiliated by the time he sat next to his locker and expressed himself, not too happy with the way the night ended.

“I’d like to give my team more than 1 for 13,” Howard said, discussing his abysmal shooting percentage. “I knew it was bad. I didn’t realize how bad until coach read us the box score.”

He dropped his head and screamed out of frustration, leaned over and positioned his hands on his knees, looking exhausted and disgusted as Butler appeared to be intimidated and couldn’t hit a basket. So here we believed Butler was more pesky and smarter than the average team, in which they were devoted to tough, aggressive defense. The rationale of the matter is that, seeing the Bulldogs remove themselves from the underdog label and turn out to be one of the elite schools to nearly win a national title, they lacked mental toughness.

The problem here is that Butler will go down as the biggest chokers in sports history, joining the company of hapless franchises with similar misadventures. The first thing is to think of the brand-name Butler, the smallest university in its community, as a doomed basketball program, whether the Bulldogs were nervous or gassed to defy the logic of probability and represent the Horizon League. In a sport that seemed to be more uncanny and weirder unlike ever before, the Bulldogs, once the finest school in the nation after creating this year’s beautiful theme and captivating the nation with “One Shining Moment,” were America’s inspirational.

The vast majority booed UConn and rooted for Butler at Reliant Stadium, which reminded us that America loves the underdog and wanted the Bulldogs to achieve the improbable. Why are we not surprised that Butler, stifled after losing its swagger and now devoid of winning its first title in school history, played so poorly after it was clearly in this position before and almost pulled off a miraculous upset over Duke? What happened to the killer teeth, the vicious toughness from the Bulldogs?

What? They weren’t tied to a leash.

It almost was never a great game, and was obviously the ugliest and worst national championship game in tournament history. It wasn’t a spectacular game, I might add, for Butler or UConn, even though the Huskies prevailed to win a low-scoring, pedestrian game. This was supposed to be a David vs. Goliath showdown, with much action and drama to end a crazy tournament that had much excitement, some upsets and feel-good stories. Maybe there was a celebration, a sense of happiness at midcourt, the overjoyed ending for the Huskies to finally get rid of the negative thoughts of a lingering scandal after the school was accused of NCAA violations, a chance for Kemba Walker, arguably the greatest player in the nation, to celebrate a gratifying moment.

But for others, it never felt the same from the moment UConn and Butler tipped it off. They both played a lousy first half, and there was no drama or intensity, as the Wilson basketball frequently bounced off and rattled around the rim. And there really were more bricks than swooshes, more unwise shots than wise shots. It isn’t often but it is a rarity, especially when the two best teams are playing for a championship, that you witness an event this insipid and terrible.

It was the most humiliating and uncharacteristic defeat of Butler’s sensational season, falling short after another devastating loss, a 53-41 disappointment to only taste a heartbreaker once again. That is the main reason why the Bulldogs are known as chokers, dropping the national title game, not once, but twice. By shooting 18.8 percent from the field, it diminished the Bulldogs’ hopes for the second straight year, and eventually there was Butler head coach Brad Stevens. The night for Stevens was heart shattering, and he spoke softly and concisely after the horrifying loss against UConn.

“It’s hard to talk about the game and really care about the intricacies of the game when you’re talking about the personal relationships and the things that you develop as a team over time.” Stevens said. “You know, when you see the freshman in there bawling their eyes out because they know they’re not going to get to play with [the seniors again], you know you have something pretty special. Seniors always get upset. When everybody’s upset, that’s a unique thing.”

Even if this was an ugly game, the Bulldogs had chemistry and unity. Every Butler player had a close relationship like actual family, mainly because of the brilliant coaching by Stevens. He’s never won a national title, but more impressively, he’s a legend at age 34 and has reached a level beyond a majority of coaches in the modern era of college basketball. The storyline, if nothing else, is that Stevens is a terrific head coach with the ability to bring his players together and play as a unified group.

All last week, of course, he was praised more than Hall of Fame coach Jim Calhoun. Although the Bulldogs faltered in the ugliest and poorest game of all time with .72 points per possession, marked the lowest for Butler since 2004, it doesn’t justify that the Bulldogs were badly advertised after failing to pull off a victory. The poorest night in shooting — at one point during the game — both teams combined for a staggering 1-of-21 shooting from the field and Butler shot a miserable 12 of 64.

The bad shooting was mainly because of Howard’s awful showing, but he couldn’t do it alone and UConn forward Alex Oriakhi stifled him. Oriakhi was the most disruptive force defensively Monday night. Despite it all, being charged with a pair of fouls, Oriakhi came out with intensity. For much of the night, if he weren’t on the bench in foul trouble, he was a beast underneath the basket, blocking and swatting four shots. The lack of intensity, assertiveness, one that led to the lowest first half combined since 1945, classified this as the worst half ever seen in basketball.

It’s been so long — my mother wasn’t even born, and the Beatles weren’t one of the hottest rock bands yet. There were no iPods, no Macbooks, no iPhones, not even a computer. There were radios and colorless televisions. That’s how long ago it was. Promised myself not to put too much into this article, with the game being the worse ever, I refused to waste much time and energy writing this.

This will go down as the worst national championship game in modern history.

Trust me. It will.

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