Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Long shot almost came in

By Bob Ryan, Boston Globe Columnist
April 6, 2010

INDIANAPOLIS — The dream was possible even after the buzzer sounded.

Trailing by 2, Gordon Hayward came galloping upcourt, came hard off the dribble, and launched a running bomb from just past midcourt. Halfway there, it didn’t look bad. As it approached the goal, it looked as if it had a chance. The ball hit the square above the backboard, hit the front rim . . . and fell off.

“Felt good, looked good,’’ sighed Hayward. “Just wasn’t there.’’

No NCAA championship for Butler.

Butler's Gordon Hayward shoots, but misses, on a potential game-winning basket over Duke's Nolan Smith in their NCAA national championship college basketball game in Indianapolis, Indiana, April 5, 2010. (Reuters)

Nope, it was Duke 61, Butler 59 for the championship of the college basketball world. It was the fourth title for coach Mike Krzyzewski, and it had to be the most satisfying one since the first, 19 years ago.

That’s because this was not supposed to be a championship year for Duke, and because Butler made the Blue Devils earn it. Duke huffed and puffed all night long, and Butler just would not go away. Duke never led by more than 6, and after going up by 5 (60-55) with 3:16 to go and seemingly on the verge of putting it away, Butler scrapped back one more time, cutting it to 60-59 on a Matt Howard basket with 54.9 seconds left, and then giving themselves a chance to win by stopping Duke on the ensuing possession.

It was right there for the Bulldogs, who were down 1 and in possession of the ball with 33.7 seconds remaining. The unthinkable, the unimaginable, the miraculous actually had a chance to materialize. Butler was one possession away from winning the NCAA championship.

But the opponent was Duke. The guys with pedigrees have dreams, too, and nobody outworks this Duke team. Butler had not gotten anything easy all night and it surely wasn’t going to change with the national championship at stake.

A pass by the Bulldogs’ Shelvin Mack was knocked out of bounds with 13.6 seconds to go. Butler called time. Hayward tried to make an inbounds pass and had to call time when he couldn’t find anyone open. Howard replaced him as the inbounds man, and he got it to Hayward, isolated with Kyle Singler at the top of the key. He tried to get into the lane. Nope. He wound up taking a tough right corner fadeaway, which, had he hit it, would have represented his first outside shot of the night. It hit the far side of the rim and bounded away.

Duke’s 7-foot center, Brian Zoubek, grabbed the rebound, and of course he was fouled. The big guy swished the first one and deliberately missed the second. But Hayward grabbed the rebound and started toward the other basket. This is where we came in.

“I can’t really put it into words, because the last couple of plays were just not normal,’’ said Singler, the deserved tourney Most Outstanding Player with 40 points, 18 rebounds, 7 assists, and some very timely baskets in the two Final Four games. “It could have gone either way, and I am just glad we came out with a victory.’’

It was a great game and it was an absolutely wonderful ending to one of the great NCAA Tournaments ever. Things were set in motion back on the afternoon of March 3, when, in the first game of the first conference tournament, Atlantic Sun No. 8 seed Kennesaw State knocked off top seed Lipscomb. We should have known we were off on a wild adventure right then and there.

We had a spectacular tournament, with some great upsets and a bunch of truly memorable games, and when we came out of the regionals we had one of the great NCAA stories ever, when Butler, the Horizon League champion whose campus is located fewer than seven miles from Lucas Oil Stadium, where these games were played, made it to the Final Four and then knocked off Michigan State in the semifinals.

The world had thus been introduced to a very smart and very scrappy team that had not lost a game since Dec. 22 and that played tremendous defense. The world had been introduced to great kids such as point guard Ronald Nored (a coach in the making), Mack, Willie Veasley, Howard, and Hayward, a 6-foot-9-inch do-everything who had chosen Butler over Big Ten schools all because he felt it was a perfect fit for his temperament and personality and personal goals, one of which is to play in the NBA.

Most of all, the world was introduced to 33-year-old Brad Stevens, who now appears to be the Next Great Thing in the coaching profession. He said and did the right things all week long, as he has done since he was hired by Butler athletic director Barry Collier two years ago.

Stevens matched wits with Hall of Famer Krzyzewski, and there was no clear victor. Duke won this game because, in the end, it had more good players, not because Coach K laid a clinic on Brad Stevens.

There were times you’d ask yourself how Butler was in the game. The Bulldogs, who had gone 11 second-half minutes without a field goal during their conquest of Michigan State, only had three field goals in the final 13:36 last night. But they hung in by virtue of their usual killer D and their willingness to attack the rim, thus getting themselves to the foul line. Man for man, the matchups almost all favored Duke, especially in the size category, but Butler is not about individual matchups and it was able to hang with the Blue Devils.

And, oh, that final Hayward shot. It really had a chance.

“I was standing at halfcourt, and I thought it was going in,’’ said Howard, whose participation had been in doubt after sustaining a blow to the head against Michigan State. “That makes it a little more devastating.’’

What an ending that would have been. But the Duke kids have dreams, too, and theirs came true.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist and host of Globe 10.0 on Boston.com. He can be reached at ryan@globe.com.

This ending fell just short of perfect

By John Feinstein
The Washington Post
Tuesday, April 6, 2010; 12:45 AM

INDIANAPOLIS- It was that close to being the perfect ending. There was Gordon Hayward grabbing the final rebound of an extraordinary national championship game Monday night and finding his way through pressure to just across the midcourt line and somehow getting a shot off over Kyle Singler. The buzzer went off with the ball in the air.

In the movies, the ball would have hit the backboard and dropped through the hoop to create the most amazing finish in NCAA tournament history. Instead, it hit the backboard and then the front rim and . . . rattled off. The shot missed by perhaps two inches - at most.

And so the finish to this remarkable 18 days of basketball was written in Durham, N.C., not Hollywood, as Duke barely hung on for a 61-59 victory in a national title game that will be remembered for years even without a finish worthy of a motion picture.

INDIANAPOLIS - APRIL 05: Kyle Singler #12 of the Duke Blue Devils attempts a shot against Willie Veasley #21 of the Butler Bulldogs during the 2010 NCAA Division I Men's Basketball National Championship game at Lucas Oil Stadium on April 5, 2010 in Indianapolis, Indiana. Duke won 61-59. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

For Duke and Coach Mike Krzyzewski it meant a fourth national title, putting Krzyzewski into the most rarified coaching air there is - short of John Wooden. He has now won more national championships than any coach other than Wooden (10) and Adolph Rupp (four). That said, Krzyzewski's four titles have come in an era in which it is far more difficult to win the championship.

"All due respect to Coach Wooden and Coach Rupp, it's much harder now to win one, much less four," said Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim. "What Mike's done is one of the greatest accomplishment in the history of the game."

Although Butler came up short - or, more accurately, two inches long - the Bulldogs' run in this tournament won't be forgotten anytime soon. This game was no different than the previous four they had won to get here. Every time they fell behind and appeared to be in trouble, they found a way to make a play at one end of the court or the other to get right back in the game.

The final sequence of the season played out almost exactly like that. After Duke had taken a 60-55 lead with 3 minutes 16 seconds remaining on two Nolan Smith free throws, the Bulldogs scored the next four points and then got the stop they had to have when Smith missed a runner in the lane with 33 seconds left.

Trailing 60-59, the Bulldogs set up their Jimmy Chitwood - Hayward - but his well-defended baseline jumper bounced out and Brian Zoubek, Duke's unsung hero throughout this tournament, grabbed the rebound with 3.6 seconds on the clock. He made the first free throw and then missed the second intentionally so Butler wouldn't have a chance to run a play off an inbounds pass.

That strategy almost backfired thanks to Hayward, who got a great screen from Matt Howard and actually had some space to launch his shot. When it missed, the air went out of most of the crowd of 70,930 packed into Lucas Oil Stadium, except at the end where the Duke fans and students were seated.

These are the names to remember: Hayward, Shelvin Mack, Ronald Nored, Willie Veasley, Zach Hahn, Avery Jukes, Matt Howard and Coach Brad Stevens, who matched one of the game's great masters chess move for chess move all night long. That said, Duke has to be credited for taking every Butler punch and responding, including coming up with a great defensive possession when the season was on the line. As good as Hayward is, he had to force a fallaway jumper with his team down one and Singler - as he had been all night - in his face.

As sad as the ending was for Butler, to say the Bulldogs have much to be proud of is a vast understatement. Just as they had done against Syracuse, Kansas State and Michigan State, they made it clear from the start against Duke that they weren't at all intimidated by the opponent or the setting.

In fact, if you were really looking for a clue to how Butler was going to approach this game, it came on the final play of Saturday's semifinal victory over Michigan State. When Hayward grabbed the final clinching rebound, he simply turned and put one finger in the air, jogging toward midcourt with the ball in his hands.

No celebration. No euphoria. It was simply game over, what's next.

That might explain why when Duke went on an 8-0 run to take a 26-20 lead with 5:08 left in the first half, there was absolutely no panic on the Butler bench. Stevens called a timeout and with Krzyzewski trying to steal some rest for Scheyer, the Bulldogs went on a quick 7-0 run to take the lead back in less than 90 seconds.

By then any notion that Duke was going to dominate Butler the way it dominated West Virginia had been laid to rest. Right from the start, it was apparent that the game was going to be played at Butler's pace. In their four victories leading to Monday night, the Bulldogs didn't score more than 63 points and didn't give up more than 59. There was little doubt that sort of game would suit them just fine and Duke appeared willing to play along.

Stevens also seemed to understand that attacking Duke's big men was a way to take away some of the Blue Devils' size advantage. Even though Howard was having trouble finishing around the basket, he quickly drew two fouls on Lance Thomas, forcing Krzyzewski to send in his Plumlees (Miles and Mason) earlier than he would have liked.

Like any team cast in the role of the villain, Duke looked tight. Smith missed three free throws, including the front end of a one-and-one that could have stretched Duke's halftime margin to 35-32. The most stunning statistic at the break though was the rebounding: Butler had a 24-17 margin, including 12 offensive rebounds that helped make up for 34 percent shooting from the field.

The other difference was the bench: Jukes produced 10 points for Butler, critical in the final moments of the half with Hayward struggling against very tight defense being played on him by Singler. Hahn also chipped in a three. Duke's bench produced zero points and one rebound.

All of which set up exactly the kind of game Butler had hoped for: close, low-scoring and, with each passing minute, the pressure growing on the favorites. The second half started much the way the first half ended: Butler attacking the basket, Duke trying to get something going on the perimeter. A pretty drive by Shelvin Mack put Butler up 40-38 with 16 minutes left but Smith, realizing he wasn't having any luck outside, sneaked inside to tie the game at 40.

It rocked back and forth from there, Duke building small leads of four and five, but unable to pull away. Butler's defense got stops when it had to and the Bulldogs seemed to make every bit shot they had to - until the very last one.

On Sunday night, Jim Scheyer, Jon's dad, went to get takeout for his son, who was sitting in his hotel room trying to kill time before the last and most important game of his college basketball career.

"The tough thing about this is knowing that if you don't win this game, you don't get to go down in history with the great teams," he said. "You can talk about all the great things these kids have accomplished but they all know this game is the one they're going to remember forever."

Actually, this was a game everyone will remember forever. As corny as it might sound, no one lost this game. And the biggest winner wasn't Duke - although the Blue Devils deserve all possible kudos for hanging on to win - it was the game of basketball.

In Indiana, that's the way it always should be.

For more from the author, visit his blog at www.feinsteinonthebrink.com.

Butler's ride is over, but the dream lives on

By Bob Kravitz
The Indianapolis Star
Posted: April 6, 2010

This is not the way the fairy tale ends. Little Red Riding Hood doesn't get mauled by the big, bad wolf. Cinderella doesn't show up two hours late for the ball because of traffic on I-65. The Three Little Pigs don't get evicted from their home before the dyspeptic fox even thinks about blowing their house down.

Duke 61, Butler 59.

Where were Norman Dale and Jimmy Chitwood when you needed them? Where was Hollywood when Gordon Hayward's fall-away jumper from the corner, on line but slightly long, bounced off the rim and out? Where were the writers when Hayward's desperation try from just over midcourt hit the backboard, a tad too hard, leaving the ball to hit the front of the rim and fall to the floor?

That close. That heart-piercingly painful.

"If felt good, it looked good," Hayward said of his penultimate miss, the fall-away jumper near the baseline. "It just wasn't there. They did a nice job. It just didn't go in."

Said Butler's Shawn Vanzant: "It just hurts. I don't think a loss ever hurt this bad before. We were right there."

Ultimately, there was too much Duke, too much of the Big Three -- Jon Scheyer, Nolan Smith and mostly Kyle Singler -- too much terrific Blue Devils defense and too little offense down the stretch from a Butler team that found a way to win this kind of game throughout the tournament.

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, a four-time national champion, now stands with the giants of the game -- although the decision to have Brian Zoubek intentionally miss a second free throw was odd, to say the least. He tied Adolph Rupp with four and trails only John Wooden, who has the unbreakable mark of 10.

Give them credit; they came into the most hostile environment conceivable, the majority of the 70,930 screaming their lungs out for Butler and the story almost everybody wanted to see. On the way to this title, Duke beat Baylor in Baylor-crazy Houston, blew out West Virginia in the national semifinal and came into Butler's literal backyard and held off the Bulldogs.

That said, let everyone else hail the Dookies, deserving national champions. This is about Butler. This is about a joyride that absolutely captured the heart of this community and this country. This is about the smallest school in the 64-team era -- and the fourth-smallest school in NCAA Tournament history -- taking us all to a place that seemed unreachable and unimaginable.

Nobody will forget this journey -- although, just like Larry Bird and the 1979 Indiana State Sycamores, the story didn't end quite right. It's right there with Milan 1954, with the perfect Hoosiers of 1976, the Keith Smart game-winner in 1987.

"There's not much to say,'' coach Brad Stevens said later. "I'm proud of our guys. We came up one possession short in a game with 145 possessions. It's hard to stomach when you're on the wrong end of that. But I told them, when you coach these guys with the effort, focus and determination they showed, you're at peace with whatever the result is on the scoreboard because we've got a group that gave it everything they had."

If this magical, marvelous run didn't renew a little bit of your faith in sports -- and specifically college basketball -- it means you've already drowned in cynicism and are beyond hope. Unless you're a Duke fan -- and maybe even if you're a Duke fan -- how can you fail to see the beauty in what Butler accomplished these past few weeks?

In our world, bigger is better, and that's especially true in revenue-producing college sports. You've got to have the highest-paid coaches. You've got to fill your roster with McDonald's All-Americans. You've got to play in a gleaming new arena and have a practice facility with more bells and whistles than an Air Force jet fighter. You've got to spend, and spend some more.

Or, well, maybe you don't.

"I know we left it all on the court," said Butler guard Shelvin Mack. "We brought nothing back to the locker room."

Butler changes everything, the reality of college basketball and the perception of college basketball. Gonzaga began it years ago, consistently pulling upsets and reaching the Sweet Sixteen. Then there was George Mason in the Final Four. And now, it was Butler, one field goal short of winning it all.

Now, will we go back to seeing pedigreed teams and million-dollar coaches from power conferences the next five years? Yeah, that's possible, even likely. But Butler has shown the little guy CAN get to the final. The little guy CAN take mighty Duke down to the final possession. Maybe next time, a Butler -- or another mid-major -- will finish the job.

They just need a chance. And that was Stevens' fervent hope when he spoke after the game, that teams like Siena, 17-1 in the regular season, don't have to win their conference tournament to reach the NCAA Tournament.

"I hope this brings to light that teams like that should not have to play perfect," he said. "We should not have to play to that standard. There are a lot of good teams outside the power six conferences."

If ever there was a right time to have a parade for a team that came up one possession short, this is it.

"You listened to our three guys (Mack, Hayward and Avery Jukes, who came into the interview room); they're crushed," Stevens said. "This matters."

But eventually the pain will subside, and the sun will come out, and we will come to understand what this group has done for this area and college basketball.

The best team beat the best story, but just by the slightest and most crushing of margins.

"This was a classic," Krzyzewski said. "A game we won. They didn't lose it."

So close.

So painful.

And yet, as wonderful as anything we'll ever witness.


Coach K moves up the list

By Caulton Tudor
The Raleigh News & Observer
April 6, 2010

INDIANAPOLIS Make room, Adolph Rupp. Mike Krzyzewski needs a seat on your row.

Near speechless in the wake of his fourth NCAA basketball championship, the Duke coach on Monday night joined the late legendary Kentucky patriarch as No. 2 on the title list.

INDIANAPOLIS - APRIL 05: Head coach Mike Krzyzewski and the Duke Blue Devils celebrate after their 61-59 win against the Butler Bulldogs during the 2010 NCAA Division I Men's Basketball National Championship game at Lucas Oil Stadium on April 5, 2010 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Only former UCLA coach John Wooden has more - a lot more. Odds are no one will match Wooden's 10 titles, but Krzyzewski and Duke have pulled even with Adolph Rupp, whose Wildcats teams ruled in 1948, '49, '51 and '58.

With a breathtaking 61-59 victory over Butler at Lucas Oil Stadium, Krzyzewski put the 2010 title atop those his teams won in '91, '92 and '01.

"This was the best championship game of the eight we've been at," said Krzyzewski, who called Butler "an amazing team."

Duke didn't get a chance to exhale until Bulldogs star Gordon Hayward barely missed a last-second heave from near mid-court that would have stood the college basketball world on its ear had it connected.

"It's hard for me to believe we're the national champions," Krzyzewski said. "We beat a great team. We played a great game, but we still just managed to get by. What a way for this team to spend its last day together."

Throughout the season, Krzyzewski refused to call his team a "great" one - only a very good one with a great will to improve.

"I don't know if any team is great at the start of a season, any team. You might have exceptional talent," Krzyzewski said before the title game. "For these guys, we have really good talent, and they've gotten better throughout the year."

But Duke (35-5) was definitely great with great motivation and needed more of it against Butler (33-5) than at any time during the season.

Seven-point underdogs, Brad Stevens' Horizon League champions used a combination of depth, quickness and uncompromising defense to scare Duke throughout the game. To the delight of 70,930 fans, the Bulldogs provided enough memories to last forever.

"With this team, you're always at peace," Stevens said. "What they've done will last a lot longer than one night."

Although Duke's Big Three were indeed big - Kyle Singler (19 points, nine rebounds), Jon Scheyer (15 points, six rebounds, five assists) and Nolan Smith (13 points, four assists) - Brian Zoubek was even bigger at the end.

Playing with four fouls much of the second half, the 7-foot center grabbe the final Duke rebound and the last point of the game to finish with eight points, 10 rebounds and two blocked shots.

On the potential winning shot by Hayward, Zoubek was able to put on just enough pressure to be a factor.

"I can't put all of this into words," Zoubek said. "We won a national championship with defense. There's nothing else to say about it."

As much as Krzyzewski gave the credit to his players, there's little doubt that the 2009-10 season rates as his best coaching job. At the beginning of the NCAA, almost no one had the Devils in the same class with Kansas, Kentucky and some of the Big East Conference powers.

"He's our leader, and he's had a great year," Smith said. "An Olympic gold medal and now this. It's special for us, but just as special for him."

And at 63 and in good health, there's no reason to think Krzyzewski won't get a chance to win No. 5 - maybe more - before he retires.

Earlier Monday, a report surfaced that the NBA's New Jersey Nets were willing to offer Krzyzewski $12 million annually to go pro. He quickly sent out a news release that emphasized his intention to stay put.

That's good news for Duke but bad news for those who hoped he may have lost his tournament touch.

caulton.tudor@newsobserver.com or 919-829-8946

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