The Daily Update 4.4.11
Tonight is the NCAA Championship game. Butler and Connecticut face off for the college basketball title and the NBA season is put on hold. Obviously, the big star of the night is Kemba Walker, who’s helped lead his team to 10 straight wins; 5 in the Big East Tournament and now 5 more in the NCAA Tournament. But both teams have their own amazing stories of how they got to this championship game.
Butler was the national runner-up last season, losing to Duke after missing a half-court prayer from star player Gordon Hayward. This season, they had a rather disappointing regular season, ending up with and 8 seed after earning a 5 seed last year. However, even with the tougher path and lower expectations, they find themselves in the Championship game again, facing off against yet another major basketball power in Connecticut.
UCONN’s story is a bit different. After missing the tournament last year, they came into the 2010-11 season without a single vote in the preseason coaches’ Top 25 poll. They started the season by winning their first 10 games of the season, including the Maui Invitational Tournament Championship against then #4 Kentucky. After gaining a lot of national attention early in the year and jumping from out of the rankings to 8th, they struggled in Big East conference play, finishing just 9-9. But even while struggling against their conference opponents, they managed wins against other conference powers Texas and Tennessee. Their season eventually culminated in 5 wins in 5 days in the Big East Tournament after finishing 9th in the regular season.
Their wins against Georgetown, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, and Louisville in that order might have been the most impressive stretch of any team coming into the NCAA tournament. They became a popular pick to exceed the expectations of 3 seed they received, even though some doubted how much energy they had left after such a difficult set of games. Every time energy seemed to leave them in a game, they’ve come back with a powerful response. After losing second half leads to both San Diego State and Arizona, they managed to finish strong against both. They blew another lead against Kentucky, but held on for the win.
So no matter which team you think will win this game, both teams have shown the toughness to get it done. They have very different playing styles and rosters, but both Connecticut and Butler have shown they belong here in Houston. In a year where they may have been the most upsets ever, these teams showed they could be better than all rest when it really mattered.
Scores from Sunday:
San Antonio 114, Phoenix 97 – Spurs regain firm control over the the West’s top seed. Suns officially eliminated from the postseason.
Denver 95, Los Angeles 90 – Nuggets have now won 15 of 19 and narrow the gap with Oklahoma City. Lakers lose for the first time in 10 games as Bynum and Gasol both suffer minor injuries.
Boston 101, Detroit 90 – Shaq returns for the Celtics… only to injure himself once again.
Miami 104, New Jersey 98 – Heat fight off Nets to maintain half game lead over Boston. New Jersey loses 6th in a row.
New York 123, Cleveland 106 – Knicks improve to .500 on the season with 3rd straight win.
Sacramento 106, Utah 97 – Kings send Utah to 8th straight loss as Evans has his best game since returning from injury.
Toronto 102, Orlando 98 – Magic tumble again. Toronto wins for the first time in 7 games.
Washington 97, Charlotte 91 – Bobcats playoff chances take another significant hit. Wizards have won back to back games.
Houston 114, Atlanta 109 – Houston stays alive in West playoffs. Atlanta now 5-5 in their last 10.
New Orleans 108, Indiana 96 – New Orleans maintains hold on West’s 7th seed. Indiana stays put at 8th in the East.
Portland 104, Dallas 96 – Blazers win sends Dallas to 3rd straight loss in possible 1st round playoff match-up.
Game of the Night:
Butler vs Connecticut – No NBA games tonight, so make sure you watch the conclusion to March Madness. Kemba Walker and UCONN take on last year’s runner-up. Expect a great game, with the Huskies coming out on top over the Bulldogs.