By EDDIE PELLS (AP National Writer)
HOUSTON — In a game that featured more grit than glamour and more brawn than beauty, Connecticut made Butler look like the underdog it really was on April 4, winning the NCAA title with an old-fashioned 53-41 “beat down” of the Bulldogs.
Star guard Kemba Walker finished with 16 points for the Huskies (32-9), whose amazing late-season streak kept going right through the final buzzer. They won their 11th straight game – five at the Big East tournament and six in March Madness – since closing the regular season with a 9-9 conference record that foreshadowed none of this.
Jeremy Lamb, a native of Norcross, Ga., provided another big lift for Connecticut, scoring nine of his 12 points during a second-half.
UConn won this title with a defensive showing for the ages, holding Butler to 12-for-64 shooting. That’s 18.8 percent, the worst ever in a title game.
It was a game short on aesthetics but full of tough-nosed defense; an old-school game, the kind a coaching Jim Calhoun had to love.
UConn trailed 22-19 after a first half that came straight out of the ’40s.
“The halftime speech was rather interesting,” Calhoun said. “The adjustment was, we were going to out-will them and outwork them.”
And so they did.
Connecticut outscored Butler by an unthinkable 26-2 in the paint. The Bulldogs (28-10), in their second straight title game and hoping to put the closing chapter on the ultimate “Hoosiers” story, went a mind-numbing 13:26 in the second half making only one field goal.
During that time, a 25-19 lead turned into a 41-28 deficit.
Joining Walker, the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, in double figures were Jeremy Lamb with 12 points, including six during UConn’s pull-away run, and Alex Oriakhi with 11 points and 11 rebounds.
Just as impressive were the stats UConn piled up on defense. Four steals and 10 blocks, including four each by Oriakhi and Roscoe Smith, and a total clampdown of Butler’s biggest stars, Matt Howard and Shelvin Mack. Howard went 1-for-13 and Mack went 4-for-15.
Butler missed from outside early and inside late. During its drought in the second half, Howard, Garrett Butcher and Andrew Smith all missed shots from right under the basket. Indeed, there were times when it seemed like there was a lid up there.
“I don’t know I could tell you we shot as poorly as we did,” Howard said. “I knew it was pretty bad. But we kept thinking the shots were going to go in. That’s the mindset you have to have.”