Imperfections on horizon after perfect ending to perfect NCAA tournament

April 06, 2010|By Chris Dufresne | Tribune Newspapers

INDIANAPOLIS - Duke and Butler ended an NCAA tournament to remember with a championship game you'll never forget.

Butler almost did it, but Duke was just a little bit better Monday at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Not by much - but enough. There was no Hollywood ending.

Butler star Gordon Hayward missed two shots to win in the last 3.6 seconds, one a baseline jumper and then a 3-point attempt from near midcourt that nearly made it.

The Big Dog won, not the underdog

The final score was 61-59, but that will never be the end of it.

Duke won its fourth national title and its coach Mike Krzyzewski moved his program into the upper tier of the upper echelon.

But Butler will not soon be forgotten.

What a way to end the season.

Duke saw a five-point lead slip to one on consecutive baskets by Matt Howard, the last with 55 seconds left.

The longer Duke let Butler hang around the more the possibility of upset lingered.

When Butler's Ronald Nored hit a 3 to put Butler up 43-42 with 13:35 remaining, the crowd kicked the noise level to the rafters.

Five straight points by Jon Scheyer put Duke up by five with eight minutes left, but Butler soon cut it back to three.

Then Lance Thomas fouled Hayward hard to stop a layup, and Hayward made two free throws to cut it to one.

Butler made only 15 of 49 shots in the second half against Michigan State on Saturday and 13 of 38 in the first half against Duke.

That's 18 for 87 in two halves against two top-notched schools - numbers that should get you killed.

But Butler beat Michigan State and stayed with Duke until the end.

These Bulldogs are as scrappy as their mascot, Blue II, who had to get special permission by the NCAA to be on the court for pregame warmups.

Duke versus Butler was a great way to end one of the best tournaments in years and made it silly to think the NCAA is seriously thinking of expanding from 65 to 96 teams.

Duke vs. Butler represented the best of what the sport, and the tournament, can be: A matchup of the fabled program going against a fable.

Know what some Butler players had to do the day of the title game?

Go to class.

Krzyzewski said Butler's arrival on the big stage proves the gap in college basketball is closing fast.

"We already see it in the tournament, a huge exclamation point on parity," Krzyzewski said.

Butler's run to the title game invigorated the host city that lives and breathes basketball.

"I know this week I've seen more Butler T-shirts than I've seen in my life before this weekend," coach Brad Stevens said.

This tournament has been a half-court swish.

Yet the plan to go from 65 teams to 96 seems to many a matter of when, not if.

The NCAA is taking a risk in tinkering with something so magical - especially this year.

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