INDIANAPOLIS -- Outside Lucas Oil Stadium on Saturday afternoon, a young Butler fan held up a poster that read
Butler's enrollment (4,438), annual basketball expenditures ($1.7 million compared to an average of $9.6 million for the other Final Four teams) and young coach (33-year-old
And Butler wore them better.
The hometown team with a campus 6.1 miles away from the Final Four venue clinched a spot in its first national championship game with a 52-50 win against Michigan State, which was playing in its second consecutive Final Four. Butler, which has won 25 consecutive games, will face the winner of Saturday's Duke-West Virginia game Monday night for the title.
"One thing about us," Butler guard
Hayward scored 19 points and grabbed nine rebounds. Bulldogs forward
With the town -- and any casual fan with no rooting interest in the other three teams -- galvanized behind the Bulldogs, Butler enjoyed a noisy homecourt advantage Saturday. Though Butler was the only Final Four participant to beat a No. 1 seed (Syracuse) and a No. 2 seed (Kansas State) en route to Indianapolis, Stevens and his players have had to explain all week that the Bulldogs are no ordinary mid-major team. They played in the past three NCAA Tournaments, making the Sweet 16 in 2007. Butler's star, 6-foot-9 guard Hayward, might be the single best player on a Final Four roster this year. Friday, Stevens said the Bulldogs wouldn't be intimidated by massive Lucas Oil Stadium, the home of the Indianapolis Colts of the NFL. "Bottom line is you're shooting on 10-foot goals," Stevens said Friday. "All the lines are the same and everything else."
It's interesting that Stevens would choose the basket-height argument. In the film
Butler players insist the similarities end there. In fact, point guard Shelvin Mack claims he has never seen the movie.
Someday, Hollywood might make a movie about this Butler team. Such a film would have to include scenes of Hayward's 13 first-half points, most of which kept Butler in the game early after Lucious set the tone by making two early three-pointers to give the Spartans a 6-0 lead.
Butler settled, and its trademark suffocating defense began to wear down the Spartans, who had played without starting point guard
Mack scored to give Butler a 34-33 lead with 17:39 remaining. The Bulldogs controlled the tempo, further depleting the Spartans when Hayward goaded Michigan State forward
The Bulldogs guarded when Green tried to muscle a shot over Hayward with eight seconds remaining and the Spartans trailing 50-49, but Green hinted later that Hayward guarded a bit too aggressively. "Maybe I got smacked," Green said. "But on my behalf, I have to go up stronger."
After the buzzer sounded, Lucious ripped a piece of athletic tape from his hand and tossed it in frustration. Butler fans danced and screamed as Butler's live bulldog mascot, Blue II, waddled onto the court to congratulate his team. Later, Blue II panted as the Butler band serenaded the moment with Kool and the Gang's "Celebration."
Meanwhile, Butler players group-hugged at midcourt, shook hands with the Spartans and shuffled off to the locker room. They seemed happy, but not overcome with joy. After all, they expected to be here.
"I'm kind of sick of hearing about us being a Cinderella team," Vanzant said. "I think we're a great ballclub."