Butler-UConn: Huskies claim NCAA championship with 53-41 victory over the Bulldogs
HOUSTON — Since arriving in Texas last week, Kemba Walker had visions.
Snipping nets. Hearing "One Shining Moment." Confetti floating around him.
While the scene is an annual tradition, Walker accurately imagined himself and his Huskies teammates in the sea of red, white and blue streamers that drifted onto the Reliant Stadium court Monday night after a 53-41 victory over Butler in a game that was more slugfest than slamfest.
"I feel like I'm dreaming," said Walker, who scored 16 points and won the most outstanding player award in front of 70,376 fans.
It was hard for anyone to envision, harder still for many to watch. It was the lowest-scoring championship game since 1949.
Butler forward Gordon Hayward's halfcourt shot clanging off the rim to lose a heartbreaker to Duke was the lasting memory from 2010's championship. This season's title game for the Bulldogs featured a number of misses — 52 to be exact — for Butler fans to stew over until fall.
The Bulldogs shot a record-low 18.8 percent, struggling against Connecticut's defensive length and taking shots that appeared aimed at Hinkle Fieldhouse.
"(Coach Jim Calhoun) just told us we'd have to outwill and outwork (Butler)," said Connecticut center Alex Oriakhi, who finished with 11 points and 11 rebounds. He helped Connecticut outscore Butler 26-2 in the paint.
The Bulldogs joined Michigan's Fab Five squads in 1992 and '93 and Houston in 1983 and '84 to lose consecutive championship games.
"I love my coaching, I love my team," he said.
Calhoun's Huskies made Butler work for every basket — all 12 out of 64 attempts.
Connecticut's 19 points after halftime, when it trailed by three, were the fewest by a team since 1960. Calhoun said he told his players in the locker room, "You're too good for this."
The Huskies found their stroke, hitting 41.7 percent after halftime. Butler shot blindfolded, going just 6 of 37 afterward.
Guard Shelvin Mack scored 13 points on 4 of 15 shooting. Forward Matt Howard was just 1 of 13 from the floor for seven points.
Connecticut freshman guard Jeremy Lamb lifted the Huskies when they needed it, scoring all 12 of his points after halftime.
When the buzzer sounded, Walker ran to a corner of the court to soak up adoring fans' cheers, while Butler walked in a daze toward the sideline.
It was almost just as Walker pictured it.
But who could have predicted the Huskies' dizzying season that included an unranked preseason start, a Maui Invitational championship, a regular-season meltdown and a Big East tournament title with five wins in five days?
And now another banner to take home.
Photo: UConn players hold the NCAA championship trophy aloft as they pose for pictures following their 53-41 victory over Butler on Monday night in Houston. Credit: Mark Humphrey / Associated Press