Butler making its move again


ASSOCIATED PRESS

Photo

Butler forward Matt Howard shoots the eventual game-winning free throw during the second half of the Southeast Regional third-round NCAA tournament college basketball game against Pittsburgh, Saturday, March 19, 2011, at the Verizon Center in Washington. Butler defeated Pittsburgh 71-70.

GAME TIME

Matchup: Butler vs. Wisconsin

When: Thursday

Where: New Orleans Arena, New Orleans

TV: (27) (19) (2)

Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS

The little team that could just might outdo itself this season.

Butler is beating up on college basketball’s big boys, taking down No. 1 seeds, booking tickets for big-city destinations and winning the hearts of college basketball fans with a long NCAA tournament run. Again.

Yes, America’s darlings are back to their old selves thanks to some buzzer-beating tricks.

“It’s funny because a month and a half ago, everybody was saying we lost every close game,” coach Brad Stevens said Sunday.

Try finding those critics now.

After beating ninth-seeded Old Dominion on Matt Howard’s last-second tip-in Thursday, the Bulldogs (25-9) upset top-seeded Pittsburgh in one of the wackiest finishes in tourney history Saturday.

Butler’s Andrew Smith gave Butler the lead — and presumably the victory — by putting in a wide-open layup with 2.2 seconds to go. Then Shelvin Mack inexplicably ran into Pitt’s Gilbert Brown as Brown tried a half-court desperation heave. Brown made the first free throw to tie the score at 70 but missed the second, and Howard grabbed the rebound only to be fouled even more inexplicably by Nasir Robinson with 0.8 seconds left.

Howard made the first shot and intentionally missed the second to end the game and send Butler into its third regional semifinal appearance in five years.

After spending an entire season trying to distance themselves from last season’s runner-up finish, the Bulldogs are right back where they started.

Their reliance on old-school basketball principles — teamwork, effort and precision — have not only brought them success and fame but continue to expand their following among blue-collar basketball fans. The media horde is expected to start swirling on campus again today, where they’re almost certain to be asked about the comparisons to last year and regaining their moniker as America’s Team.

The bookies still don’t buy it, which only exacerbates the image and adds to the legions of fans who root for underdogs like Butler.

“Nobody’s going to pick us to beat Wisconsin, and nobody picked us to beat Old Dominion or Pitt, either,” Stevens said.

Not bad for the team that was supposed to go out in the first round each of the last two years. Or for a team that some wrote off during a three-game losing streak, the longest of Howard’s career, in late January and early February.

Butler responded from that skid with seven straight wins to clinch a share of its fifth consecutive regular-season title. The Bulldogs won two more games in the conference tourney to earn the league’s automatic bid, the only way they could assure themselves of making the 68-team field. And they’ve added two more NCAA tourney victories to their resume, leaving them just two wins short of a second straight Final Four.

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