BUTLER 63, Kansas State 56

THE ROAD WINDS HOME

Bulldogs shock Kansas State as their miracle run continues

Posted: March 28, 2010
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SALT LAKE CITY -- Restrained and corporate-looking as he is, Brad Stevens finally let his guard down.

On the bus ride home from the airport a week ago, Butler's basketball team passed Lucas Oil Stadium. Wouldn't it be something, the coach told wife Tracy, if the Bulldogs played there in the Final Four?

"That hit a little bit," he said. "That was the first time I even thought about it."

Now, that's almost all anyone in Indianapolis will be thinking about. Home-grown Gordon Hayward, who led Brownsburg High School to a state title, has taken his act to a larger stage.

Hayward scored eight of his 22 points in the closing six minutes, and Butler knocked off Kansas State 63-56 Saturday in the NCAA West Regional final.

No. 5 seed Butler (32-4) will play in a national semifinal next Saturday against the winner of today's Midwest Regional final between Michigan State and Tennessee at St. Louis.

In running its winning streak to 24 and going farther in the NCAA Tournament than ever before, Butler became the smallest school (enrollment: 4,200) in the Final Four since seeding was introduced in 1979. Butler will be the first team to play in a Final Four in its home city since champion UCLA in 1972.

By the way, Butler is 15-0 in Indy.

"Our dreams definitely didn't stop at getting to the Final Four," said Hayward, voted outstanding player of the West Regional. "We want to win the whole thing."

The Bulldogs' defense was so suffocating that they held No. 1 seed Syracuse and No. 2 seed Kansas State (29-8) to season lows and a collective 46 points under their averages. Butler is 19-0 when holding opponents under 60 points, and Kansas State fell to 2-5 when scoring fewer than 70.

Wildcat guards Denis Clemente and Jacob Pullen, who totaled 53 points in a Thursday's double-overtime win over Xavier, were limited to 32 on 11-of-30 shooting. Pullen, shadowed by an omnipresent Ronald Nored, scored 14 points -- 12 under his tourney average.

Hayward's nine rebounds led the outsized Bulldogs to a 41-29 edge in that category, compensating for 20 turnovers. Butler's Shelvin Mack scored 16 points and joined Hayward on the all-regional team.

Although Butler often has been compared to the small-town Milan team that inspired the movie "Hoosiers," the Bulldogs have instead resembled the gritty racehorse from "Seabiscuit." In three tournament games, the Bulldogs lost leads in the closing minutes, only to thunder down the homestretch to finish first.

After leading by 11 points in the first half and 10 in the second, the Bulldogs fell behind 52-51 with less than five minutes left. They trailed for all of 35 seconds.

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Clemente scored on a runner to tie it at 54. Then the Bulldogs secured the victory with a 9-0 run beginning with Hayward's layup off Nored's lob. Nored drove for a left-handed layup to make it 58-54 with 2:04 left, and Hayward's drive extended that to 60-54 with 62 seconds on the clock.

Kansas State coach Frank Martin said the Bulldogs "kicked our tails" and "annihilated us" on the glass.

"It's hard to be happy for someone when you lose," Martin said. "But I've got to think it's going to be a great, great week for Butler people and people in the city of Indianapolis to have one of their own in the Final Four."

One of the Bulldogs' unusual features is that three sophomores -- Hayward, Mack and Nored -- are starters and they lack the experience supposedly necessary for a mid-major to make a lengthy tourney run.

Yet national championships have been won by Butler before -- in an AAU Tournament in 1924 and a mythical one from 1929. There are banners at Hinkle Fieldhouse commemorating those titles.

It's a big place, though. There's plenty of room left to hang another.

If you don't believe it, Stevens said, you can't achieve it.

"This is a very special moment in our life," Mack said. "We all believed in each other."



Call Star reporter David Woods at (317) 444-6195.

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