NCAA hoops: Feel-good vs. real good
By Chris Dufresne
Los Angeles Times
INDIANAPOLIS — OK, wait, maybe this is a movie script.
Duke beat West Virginia, 78-57, in the late NCAA national semifinal game Saturday, and Butler somehow did it against Michigan State, 52-50, in the first game at Lucas Oil Stadium.
And that sets up Butler vs. Duke for the national title in Butler's hometown.
This isn't good vs. evil — it's good vs. Devil.
Duke is 93-30 all-time in the NCAA tournament and its coach is so famous he goes by Coach K
Mike Krzyzewski has 867 career wins to 88 for Butler Coach Brad Stevens, who is only three years older (33) than Coach K has been coaching in Durham.
Krzyzewski's winning percentage in the NCAA tournament is second all-time to only John Wooden's. Butler is 13-9 in the tournament.
While Duke pummeled West Virginia on Saturday, looking invincible, Butler's Bulldogs barked and scrapped out a two-point win over Michigan State despite going 10:32 in the second half without scoring a basket.
Butler was also outrebounded by Michigan State and shot 31 percent for the game (24 percent in the second half.).
"I never thought we would win if we shot 15 for 49," Stevens said.
The title game already has sides: Duke is the big, bad team from the Atlantic Coast Conference, seeking its fourth national title Monday.
And Butler players are so cute you just want to hug them.
This is the first title-game appearance for Butler, which plays its home game in nearby Hinkle Fieldhouse, the gym they used in "Hoosiers."
Thousands of fans Sunday may attend Easter services and then line up to boo Duke.
Duke lives with this every day of every year.
The Indianapolis Star ran a very unflattering illustration of Krzyzewski in some editions of Friday's paper. Coach K called it juvenile and the paper publicly apologized to the school.
Duke's reputation wasn't enhanced, when with 8:59 left in Saturday night's romp, West Virginia senior star Da'Sean Butler appeared to seriously injure his left knee after getting called for a charging foul.
Mountaineers Coach Bob Huggins, in a poignant scene, ran out on the court and comforted his star, whispering in his ear.
He then turned his attention to official John Higgins and said, "They don't foul, right, John?"
The insinuation: Duke gets all the calls.
So these are your dividing lines:
Last fall, as Duke's coach was taking heat for not having put a team in the Final Four in six years, Butler's coach exited a team meeting thinking this could be a magical year, you know, with the Final Four being in Indianapolis.
"I walked out of that room and I kind of thought. I hope we'll get a chance to do this," Stevens said. "This is a great story."
Duke, on Saturday, looked unbeatable.
The Blue Devils strafed the Mountaineers, making 13 of 25 of its three pointers. Butler won, but we're still not sure how.
You knew it was official when Gordon Hayward grabbed a missed free throw with two seconds left, watched the clock run out and ignited the celebration.
Butler had won its 25th straight game. Michigan State was headed home.
Stevens made a decision in the waning seconds many veteran coaches don't make.
Up by three points with 5.8 seconds left, Stevens ordered his team to foul intentionally so that Michigan State could not tie the game with a three-pointer.
This is the strategy Memphis Coach John Calipari did not employ two years ago against Kansas and it may have cost him the national title.
Butler's plan worked perfectly.
With two seconds left, Shawn Vanzant wrapped his arms around Korie Lucious.
No way Lucious was sending it to overtime. He was the guy, remember, who beat Maryland in this year's tournament with a last-second three-pointer.
Lucious made the first free throw to cut the lead to two, and missed the second intentionally, but Hayward scooped up the rebound and Butler was headed to Monday night.
The game went as expected. It was ugly and gritty. Butler, in the tournament, has now held five teams to fewer than 60 points.
"It was definitely Butler basketball," senior forward Avery Jukes said. "We had to grind it out."
Butler's time had come — in its own city..
This is the sixth time Indianapolis has hosted the Final Four, and the town has already been awarded the 2015 event.
Frankly, Indianapolis should get a Final Four at least every third year.
Hosting a basketball tournament here is like the Germans hosting Oktoberfest.
Indianapolis gets it. In no other city is there a better basketball-to-the-people connection.
And now the town is connected to Butler?
But wait, it is real.
"Words can't explain the way everybody is feeling right now," Butler senior forward Willie Veasley said, "to be in the national championship game, when nobody gave us a chance at all."
Butler, here's your chance.