“To me, that’s beauty,” Huskies Coach Jim Calhoun said of the defensive duel. “Damn, I loved it.”
As unsightly as it was, the outcome served as a crowing achievement for Calhoun, who won his third national title with what he says is the most resilient team he has ever coached. He joined John Wooden, Mike Krzyzewski, Bob Knight and Adolph Rupp as the only coaches with more than two titles. Calhoun, 68, also became the oldest coach ever to win the championship.
All season, the Huskies (32-9) were carried by all-American Kemba Walker, who was named the Final Four’s most outstanding player. But defense carried the Huskies in both Final Four games at Reliant Stadium.
Butler, which was trying to be the second No. 8 seed to win the title, saw its unlikely run end with as poor of a shooting effort as one could imagine on the sport’s largest stage. The good news was that the Bulldogs (28-10) shot 22.2 percent in the first half. The bad news was that they began the second half by making two of their first 24 field goal attempts.
“Tonight had a lot of frustrating moments because we could not score,” Butler Coach Brad Stevens said, adding later: “They guard you so well that when you get a few open ones you don’t feel comfortable.”
The Bulldogs shot 18.8 percent for the game, the worst performance from the field in NCAA title game history. They made 3 of 31 shots from two-point range, which was the worst performance from two-point range in any Division I game this season, according to analyst Ken Pomeroy.
The Huskies had their own offensive struggles in the first half of what was then a tight game. But the focus during timeouts, Calhoun said, remained defense. At halftime, Calhoun recalled, he and assistants told the team: “You’re too good for this. If they beat us, that’s fine. But we’re not playing full speed. We look awful on offense because we are walking into screens. If you play fast on defense, we’ll get faster on offense.”
U-Conn.’s offense came alive just enough in the second half to give the Huskies some separation. Freshman Jeremy Lamb, whose contributions during the tournament were invaluable for the Huskies, scored all 12 of his points in the second half. He said he missed a couple open shots in the first half and became timid.
“My teammates encouraged me, Coach got into me,” Lamb said. “Right out of the half, they ran a couple plays for me. All I want to see is the ball go into the net. Then I got my confidence back.”
Walker did not have his best night. The junior made only 5 of 19 field goal attempts and scored 16 points. But his acrobatic layup pushed the lead to 11 in the second half, forcing Stevens to call a timeout.