Sweet 16 Recap Southeast Regional - (8) Butler 61, (4) Wisconsin 54
This was one of the most decisive seven-point games in NCAA Tournament history. For 37 minutes, a regional semifinal proved to be completely non-competitive. Don’t allow a late and futile rally by a thoroughly beaten team to alter the complexion of the latest and greatest conquest for college basketball’s version of “The Little Engine That Could.”
Yes, America: One year after riding all the way to the final Monday night of the season, the boys from Butler University are one win away from a repeat Final Four trip.
The Butler Bulldogs upset the Wisconsin Badgers in Sweet 16 competition from the New Orleans Arena in New Orleans, Louisiana on Thursday night. The Bulldogs, who lost last season in the NCAA national championship game, continued their March magic down on the Bayou. Matt Howard scored 20 points, grabbed 12 rebounds, and seemingly made every hustle play to will the Bulldogs to victory.
Butler’s defense was especially impressive, holding Wisconsin to just 24 first half points and 30 percent shooting on the night. Jordan Taylor remained cold from the field and was unable to shake off his previous two outings. Talylor was just 6-of-19 from the field. His teammate, Jon Leuer, was just 1-of-12 in a body-snatched performance that, had it been just a little better in spots, would have made the Badgers competitive in a contest that Butler almost gave away. At any rate, the obvious is necessary to underscore: The horrid shooting performances from meal-ticket scorers certainly did not represent the recipe for a Wisconsin victory.
Butler did just enough offensively to survive a late Wisconsin rally. The Bulldogs, who are so superbly coached by Brad Stevens and had this game under control for the first 37 minutes, began to unravel in the face of – yes – Wisconsin’s full-court press in the last three minutes. The Badgers are the exact antithesis of a 94-foot team; UW and coach Bo Ryan pride themselves on playing rugged halfcourt defense and trying to slow down opponents. However, desperate times – and a double-digit deficit (53-42) entering the final three minutes of regulation – forced Wisconsin to step out of its comfort zone, and amazingly enough, the Badgers really did badger Butler’s guards. A Shawn Vanzant turnover here led to one layup for Wisconsin; just moments later, a giveaway by BU’s dependable anchor, Shelvin Mack, led to another deuce for the scrambling number four seed from the Big Ten.
The tidal wave of bad Butler decisions kept coming: Mack then missed a difficult layup attempt with 16 seconds left on the shot clock, a horrible error in judgment created by the accelerated tempo the Badgers had created. When Taylor – on one of his few accurate shots of the night – banged in a three with 1:40 left, Butler improbably found itself in a fight, leading by a scant margin of 53-49. Considering the fact that Butler had led by 13 points just a few minutes earlier, the turnabout was nothing less than stunning; a 13-point Butler lead is like a 25-point lead for any other team in the country. Somehow, Wisconsin had re-inserted itself into the conversation after a lot of remote controls had clicked off the game.
However, once forced to ratchet up its level of concentration, the Horizon League’s banner carrier didn’t make a misstep. Shelvin Mack’s step-back jumper with under a minute to play put any chances of a Wisconsin miracle on hold, and Howard sealed the issue with an offensive rebound and two foul shots that made the score 59-52 for the number eight seed with 28 seconds to go.
Wisconsin fished the season at 25-9. Butler will look to make its second consecutive Final Four appearance as the Bulldogs face second-seeded Florida in the Southeast Regional Final on Saturday at 4:30 p.m. Eastern time.
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