(3) UConn vs. (8) Butler
(3) Connecticut Huskies
On a tough shooting night for the Kentucky Wildcats, the Connecticut Huskies leaned, once again, on the seemingly tireless Kemba Walker to advance to their third NCAA Championship game in program history. UConn, which finished ninth in the Big East regular season standings, led 31-21 at the break and held Kentucky off down the stretch as Shabazz Napier’s pair of clutch free throws proved to be the difference in a 56-55 win. The losers of four of their last five regular season games, the Huskies have now won ten straight games, including five wins in as many nights to win the Big East Tournament. Walker, a 6-1 junior, is averaging 25 points, 5.4 rebounds and 6.8 assists per game during the team’s surprising NCAA Tournament run and after being largely a one man throughout most of the season, has gotten big time production out of freshman swingman Jeremy Lamb recently. The 6-5 Lamb has scored in double-figures in each of his last ten games, averaging 16.6 points over that stretch (more than five points higher than his season average). Connecticut must take care of the basketball (15 turnovers against Kentucky) in what figures to be a possession oriented championship game.
(8) Butler Bulldogs
For the second consecutive season, Coach Brad Stevens Butler team has played its way into the national championship game, despite all odds. On Feb. 3, the Bulldogs suffered a 62-60 defeat at the hands of Youngstown State (9-21 overall, 2-16 Horizon) and it looked as the their Cinderella run of a year ago came to an end when the clock struck midnight as Gordon Hayward’s half-court heave missed the mark. since that stumble at Youngstown, however, Butler has reeled off 14 consecutive wins, including 70-62 decision over Virginia Commonwealth in the national semi-final. Junior guard Shelvin Mack had 24 points, while hitting 8-11 field goals and 5-6 three-point shots, to go along with six rebounds to lead the way for Butler. Stevens’ experienced squad shot only .356 from the field as a group, but punished VCU on the glass, outrebounding the Rams 46-30 overall and 15-5 on the offensive boards. Butler likes to slow the game down, play ugly and minimize possessions. This is a different Bulter team when Matt Howard, who has struggled with foul trouble throughout his career, isn’t on the floor but he hasn’t fouled out of a game since Jan. 29 and has only reached four fouls twice (one of which was Saturday against VCU) during the team’s 14-game win streak.
HOOPSWORLD’s Pick: Butler. The Bulldogs came just a prayer away from beating Duke in the championship game a year ago. Butler’s ability to defend and rebound will be the difference against a young Connecticut team.