The 2011 national championship game fell right into the pattern of this year’s NCAA tournament when it played out, full of surprises.
And that’s not to say that Connecticut, a No. 3 seed, didn’t deserve this year’s crown, as the Huskies became champions of the ultimate dogfight with a 53-41 victory against Butler.
But for the first time in a long while, the nation didn’t get a front row seat to the Kemba Walker scoring show. While Walker did post a game-high 16 points, Monday night’s performance wasn’t the star guard’s normal performance.
For that matter, the entire game didn’t exactly revolve around offense at all. The Huskies instead won their third national title since 1999 with a resilient man-to-man defense that stunned Butler’s offense.
UConn kept the Bulldogs to the lowest field-goal percentage ever seen in the NCAA finale, as Butler went on to shoot just a meager 18.8 percent. And the Bulldogs' shots weren’t falling because the Huskies wouldn’t let them.
After Butler scratched its way to a 22-19 edge at the half, thanks to a buzzer-beating 3-pointer, Butler guard Shelvin Mack struggled in his 13-point performance — largely due to Jeremy Lamb’s smothering coverage.
UConn center Alex Oriakhi also helped to shut down Butler’s offensive production from the start, as the sophomore kept Butler forward Matt Howard to just seven points, all while putting up his own double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds.
Add four blocks next to Oriakhi’s name, as well as four by freshman Roscoe Smith, and it became clear that UConn's interior defense let Walker and Lamb take over on scoring. The Huskies found their route to cutting down the nets.
It’s been quite a run for the same Huskies that finished ninth in the Big East this year, with a 9-9 conference record. Heading into the title game, it wasn’t really clear whether the Huskies overtook Butler’s previous underdog title from the Bulldogs' unfinished Cinderella story from the year prior.
But UConn’s five straight wins en route to a Big East tournament title set the Huskes on a path where they haven’t stopped running since. Eleven games later, the Huskies and head coach Jim Calhoun are this year’s NCAA national champions.