UConn prevails in ugly finish to memorable tourney
March Madness has finally come to a close, and I’m kind of sad, but once again, we were left with another great year of upsets, disappointments and superhuman individual performances. And none stand out more than the play of senior guard Kemba Walker for Connecticut.
People have to understand that the Huskies would probably be in the NIT if it wasn’t for Walker. But instead they beat five teams in five days to claim the Big East tournament title and followed that by getting six more wins in the NCAA tournament to claim their first title since the Ben Gordon and Emeka Okafor days of 2004.
Connecticut should party and celebrate because it won this title because of heart, defense and the terrific play of an outstanding guard who probably will not have that much success in the NBA because of his size. But who cares about that? For about a month and a half, Walker made the NCAA arenas his playground. He stole the show.
Basketball always has a special feel when it comes to individual accomplishments. I think it’s because basketball might be the one team sport that can drastically change the most with the contributions of one player. And Walker, my man, you should enjoy this forever. All of UConn should. Alex Oriakhi rebounded and controlled the paint like he was Dwight Howard. Jeremy Lamb played like he was an upperclassman and the pesky Huskies’ defense shut down the Butler Bulldogs.
Since we are talking about the national championship here, we need to talk about the losing squad; the team that often gets forgotten, and it really doesn’t get more painful than this. Butler lost consecutive national championship games; how do you rebound from that? What can you say to your guys in the locker room? Look, these guys have such an amazing winning swagger. They are absolute competitors and they wanted to win. You can’t give them a “you guys did the best you could” speech because guess what? They didn’t do their best, and they know that. That’s what makes it so painful for them. But come on, Butler, keep your head up.
For the second consecutive year, you made it to the national championship game. It wasn’t as close as last year, but you beat a lot of good teams to get there. And your best guy from a year ago, Gordon Hayward, is jacking up 3-pointers somewhere in Salt Lake City right now. So, it’s amazing what you did.
People didn’t think you would make the NCAA tournament; you had to win the Horizon League conference tournament to get here. But you did and you shocked No. 1 seed Pittsburgh and suffocated Wisconsin. You downed a pesky Virginia Commonwealth team and then picked the worst time ever to have an incredibly improbable and downright unlucky shooting night. But you’ll be back, I know you will. Because I said I wouldn’t see you for a while, and you came right back and showed me the value of your program. You keep teaching me what sound coaching and winning basketball brings to the table and honestly, college basketball needs you. You are not an underdog, you are an elite program and there is no shame in being the national runner-up. It hurts, I know, but one day you’ll look back and think of what you accomplished and remember that it was all worth the ride.
But enough talk about the national championship. Let’s reminisce about some of the best moments of the tournament. Like Morehead State beating Louisville or seeing VCU show the finger to Jay Bilas, Dick Vitale and the entire ESPN crew and make it all the way to the Final Four. I mean, you’re a good team, VCU, but you beat Kansas by 10? Seriously?
Or how about watching Duke’s locker room after being defeated? No one should think the Blue Devils didn’t care; they wanted this so badly. And how about Arizona’s Derrick Williams’ layup plus the foul to beat Texas? It was another great year.
And even though Kentucky head coach John Calipari needs to stop breaking NCAA violations, he brings basketball back wherever he goes and he gave life to a dead Kentucky program, so I’ll respect him for that. His team played sublime basketball in the tournament.
But I guess that’s going to be it for college basketball for a while. We’ll have the NBA draft coming soon and we’ll get to see a lot of these players live up to their potential. And I know America is rooting for BYU’s Jimmer Fredette. He put on a show this year. He and Walker gave life to college basketball, so they better bring their game to the pros.