Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Butler Performs the Choke Job for the Worst Shining Moment


If 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 brutal fangs and ferociousness on many nights to shock the world again?

So how does Butler, a small university located outside of Indianapolis that earned fame nationally, reaches a climax by qualifying for the Final Four and knocking 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 disciplined group of players, were verified as the cutest and sentimental tale when really the Bulldogs were worthy of being described as a national power in college basketball.

It turned out, on a night when Butler performed the choke job and were unsuccessful in redeeming themselves following the heartbreaker a year ago against Duke in a grueling bout for the national title, that the Bulldogs were lifeless and deteriorated at the worst possible time. Matt Howard's face was pale and he wore a dispirited gaze, 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. For Howard, a relentless NBA prospect in the next NBA Draft with his bloody right knee and skin torn, it was frustrating and humiliating by the time he sat next to his locker and expressed indignation, not gratified with the way the night ended in the national title game.

"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 in frustration, leaned over and positioned his hands on his knees, looking exhausted and exasperated when Butler was 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 hard-nosed, tough-minded aggressive defense. The rationale of the matter is that, seeing the Bulldogs remove from the charming underdog label and allegedly develop into one of the elites to nearly win a national title by Butler's experience, they lacked discipline and 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 instinct is to think of the brand-name, the smallest university in its community, as an elusive and doomed basketball program, whether Butler was 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 for creating a beautiful theme and enticing the nature of "The One Shining Moment" ritual, were one of America's most inspirational souls.

The vast majority booed UConn and rooted for Butler in Reliant Stadium, which reminded us that America loves the underdog and wanted the Bulldogs to fulfill an inconceivable dream. 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 the Bulldogs were clearly in this position before and almost pulled off the 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, but 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 in a sluggish, low-scoring, pedestrian clash. This was expected to be a David vs. Goliath showdown, with much action and drama in the end of a deranged tourney that had much excitement, upsets and feel-good stories. Maybe there was a celebration, the pile of happiness in midcourt, the overjoyed ending for the Huskies to clear the thought of a lingering scandal ever since UConn had been accused of NCAA violations, a chance for Kemba Walker, arguably the greatest player in the nation, to celebrate in a gratifying moment.

But for others, it never felt the same from the moment UConn and Butler tipped it off to play a lousy first half with no drama or intensity as the Wilson basketball frequently bounced off or rattled around the rim. And there really were more bricks than swooshes, more unwise shots than wise shots. It isn't often but a rarity, especially when the two best teams are observing the national scene and chasing one goal, that you witness an event this insipid or terrible.

It was the most humiliating and uncharacteristic defeat of Butler's effulgent season, falling in another devastating loss, a 53-41 disappointment to duplicate a heartbreaker once again. That is the main reason Butler is described as chokers, losing in 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 the boy-wonder among college basketball coaches 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 with a close relationship like actual family, mainly with the brilliant grooming by Stevens. He's never won a national title, but more impressively, he's a legend at the age 34 and has reached an incredible level beyond a majority of coaches in the modern era of collegiate basketball. The storyline, if nothing else, is that Stevens is a terrific head coach with the mentality of bringing his players together to play as a unified program.

All last week, of course, he inexplicably accepted stronger praise than Hall of Fame coach Jim Calhoun. Although the Bulldogs faltered in the ugliest and poorest game 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 not attaining a dazzling achievement in sports. The poorest night in shooting -- at one point in the game -- both teams combined for a staggering 1 of 21 shooting from the field and Butler shot a miserable 12 of 64.

It came from the paltry play by Howard, but he couldn't do it alone and had been stifled by UConn forward Alex Oriakhi, the most disruptive force defensively Monday night. Despite it all, being charged with a pair of fouls, Oriakhi came out with his intensity. For much of the night, if he wasn't on the bench in foul trouble, he was efficient in middle and blocked four shots and swatted plenty of shots. The lack of intensity, assertiveness, one that led to the lowest combined first half 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 were one of the hottest rockbands later down the years. 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 in writing this.

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

Trust me. It will.