A lot can be said about this UConn team, forever to be treasured.
The Huskies forgot how to lose when everyone else seemed to forget about them, period, captivating the nation with a historic run at the Big East tournament. They had extracted a joyful innocence from their 68-year-old Hall of Fame coach, Jim Calhoun.
They marched through Washington and Anaheim, kept this season going until the last possible day, Monday, when they pulled on their jerseys for a record 41st time, lined up against Butler before 70,376 fans and started the final sprint toward the ultimate dream.
And now this can be said: They are national champions.
The Huskies emerged from a grind of a game and defeated Butler 53-41 at Reliant Stadium. Fireworks went off. Confetti and streamers fell from the rafters. The Huskies hugged at midcourt. Kemba Walker raced over to UConn's fan section.
Some will call this one of the most unwatchable championship games in history. But from the UConn bench, and on televisions from Greenwich to Thompson, Salisbury to Stonington, it was beautiful.
Some will call this a most improbable run to the title. UConn, unranked to begin the season, won't care.
For a while, it seemed like this breathless ride had taken the wind out of them, but they dominated the second half and won easily.
Kemba Walker had 16 points and nine rebounds. Alex Oriakhi had 11 and 11. Jeremy Lamb had 12 points and seven rebounds.
Shelvin Mack led Butler with 13 points. The Bulldogs shot an atrocious 18.8 percent. UConn's 34.5 percent seemed efficient by comparison.
The victory further solidified UConn as one of college basketball's most dominant programs. It has been a sustained stay among the elite for a program built over Calhoun's 25 years in Storrs. Calhoun is the fifth coach to win three or more titles, and his came in a 12-year span after spending what seemed like a lifetime trying to reach the Final Four.
UConn finished 32-9. Butler (28-10) is Cinderella no more, but bridesmaid again. The Bulldogs lost last season's championship game to Duke.
UConn sealed this with a 23-2 run in the second half.
The Huskies' regular season ended with a loss to Notre Dame, their fourth in fifth games and seventh in 11. What are you made of? What are you capable of? What are you worried about. Those, essentially, were the questions asked around Gampel Pavilion in the days before the Huskies headed to New York, where they made history.
The first half might have been the least aesthetically pleasing in Final Four history, a ham-fisted affair of lost dribbles and missed shots. The Huskies had one assist in the half and shot 9-for-31. Butler had two assists and shot 6-for-27.
Butler led 22-19 after 20 minutes. The 41 combined points were the fewest in any half of a championship game since 1946. UConn's 19 were the fewest since 1960. This is not what Calhoun was referring to when calling the Huskies an old-fashioned team.
Maybe it was the dome, problems with depth perception, the occasional breeze that does whip through the cavernous stadium. Shooting percentages are always down. Whatever the reason, it didn't look pretty.
UConn had been the first to get in a little groove. Walker broke an 8-8 tie with a pull-up jumper. At the other end, he grabbed a rebound and darted up court, hesitated and then cut to the basket, converting a layup while fouled. His three-point play capped a 9-2 run and gave the Huskies a five-point lead.
Butler quickly answered by scoring the next five, tying it on a free throw by Andrew Smith. After Charles Okwandu scored on a put-back, Chase Stigall made a three-pointer to give Butler a 16-15 lead with 7:16 remaining.
The three-pointer was the great equalizer. Five of the Bulldogs' six field goals in the half were threes (they were 1-for-13 on two-pointers), a testament to the general mess this game was and UConn's size advantage. But while the Huskies seemed to have an edge in length, strength and energy, they weren't rewarding themselves by converting inside. Also, Alex Oriakhi sat out the final 10 minutes of the half with two fouls, Walker the final two-plus with the same problem.
Donnell Beverly did make a short jumper in the lane that put UConn ahead 19-16, but Mack made a three-pointer to tie it and got it back in the closing seconds of the half. Beverly played good defense, stayed tall, right in his face.
Mack still swished it. Butler had a three-point lead. Both teams had a lot to figure out in the locker room.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun