The lovable underdog label is long gone. Now Butler is determined to drop that “first loser” tag, too.
Shelvin Mack scored 24 points and Zach Hahn came up big off the bench, ending the warm-and-fuzzy story of this year's tournament with a 70-62 victory over VCU in the Final Four on Saturday night.
The victory sends Butler to the national title game for a second straight year and marks the first time since Duke in 1991 that the runner-up has returned to play for the championship.
The Bulldogs (28-9) will face the winner of Kentucky-Connecticut on Monday night.
“Last year we didn't get it done, so that's in the back of my mind,” Mack said. “My teammates did a great job of getting me the ball in position to have success.”
Hahn scored all eight points of his points during a 90-second span in the second half that gave Butler control of the game for good.
VCU (28-12) sure didn't look like a team critics dismissed as “unworthy” - and a whole lot worse - after it skidded into the NCAA tournament with five losses in its last eight games. But Butler's unforgiving defense was too much for the Rams, only the third No. 11 seed to reach the Final Four.
“They played terrific all the way through, and we were fortunate to pull that one out,” Butler coach Brad Stevens said.
“We had guys make individual plays all the way through that were crucial.”
Jamie Skenn scored 27 and Brandon Burgess had 15, but the Rams made only eight 3-pointers and shot less than 40 percent from the field. Joey Rodriguez, the smooth point guard who dictates VCU's offense, didn't make a shot until 8:30 left in the game, finishing with only three points on 1-of-7 shooting.
The Bulldogs came within a bounce of winning it all last year only to see Gordon Hayward's last-ditch, half-court heave carom off the rim and watch Duke celebrate the title with a 61-59 win. That the Bulldogs are playing for the title again is maybe even more impressive than the first trip, having lost Hayward, their leading scorer and rebounder, to the NBA lottery. Butler also lost two other players who made significant contributions, Willie Veasley
and Avery Jukes.
Everybody guarded, everybody stayed together and that's what this is all about.