SALT LAKE CITY—The Butler basketball team is confidently going where no other Bulldog team has gone before.
The mid-major school that has spend most of the season in the Top-25 is earning national respect by the day thanks another resilient NCAA Tournament effort.
"I don't ever doubt our guys, I know that. As long as there is time on the clock, I feel like we've got a shot," said Brad Stevens Thursday after the Bulldogs 63-59 Sweet 16 victory over #1 seed Syracuse.
Much like in Butler's Second Round victory over Murray State, the time appeared to be slipping away from the Bulldogs late. Against the Racers, Butler trailed 50 to 47 with 2:48 to play. The Bulldogs ended that game on a 7-2 run, thanks in part to a big shot and key defensive play by Ronald Nored.
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"It is a good way to end it. Defense, both times, that is what we hang out hat on."
It was a case of deja 'vu Thursday night in Salt Lake City. The Big East Champions rallied from ten points down at the half to lead 54-50. After a couple of stops, Nored got the Bulldogs to within one point with a clutch three-pointer a few feet beyond the three-point arc.
"Ron's three really was the catalyst. Him hitting that shot was huge and Willie made a few huge plays. Ron stepped up again and really shut down, at least for the most part, Rautins and made life really difficult, defense came up huge in those last four minutes," added Howard.
Butler's resiliency and determined defensive attack has the Bulldogs on the doorstep of the Final Four. It also has them earning a fair amount of respect.
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There will be no shortage of stories written in national publications Friday about this team being one game away from "hosting" a Final Four. It was also a popular topic in the moments after the victory Thursday in the Energy Solutions Arena Locker Room.
"It would be amazing. I know we've got a good group of guys. We're going to enjoy the win tonight and get prepared for the game Saturday," said sophomore Shelvin Mack.
"We're enjoying this right now. We have a job to do on Saturday. If we get back to Indy, it sure would be a lot of fun," said sophomore Nored.
"Whoever we play it's going to be a brawl out there. It's just going to be a great opportunity for us," said sophomore Gordon Hayward before knowing that Butler's opponent would be Kansas State.
You might think the pressure of playing in a Lucas Oil Stadium Final Four would get to the Bulldogs. Stevens disagrees.
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"Our guys will go and give it a great fight on Saturday. There's no pressure, just go out there and play, and enjoy it and play as hard as you can for 40 minutes," said Stevens Thursday.
Although it isn't like the Bulldogs have wilted very often in pressure situations this season. They take a 23-game winning streak into play Saturday. They haven't lost a game in 2010. And the last couple of games, Butler's resiliency (and pressure defense) has EVERYONE respecting the the Butler basketball program.