The above sentence is one of the major reasons why the Butler Bulldogs, winners of 24 straight games, are now headed home to Indianapolis not just because they have to but also to play in next weekend's Final Four. Matt Howard ran into foul trouble early but it didn't matter as Brad Stevens' team used defense and rebounding to knock off two-seed Kansas State 63-56 in Salt Lake City. Gordon Hayward led the way with 22 points and nine rebounds while Shelvin Mack added 16 points and seven boards. While the Bulldogs shot 57.9% from the field in the second half, turning the ball over twelve times in the final twenty minutes meant that they needed their defense and rebounding to get the job done.
"You look at what these guys did today, we turned it over 20 times, which is almost as much as our three games combined," said Stevens. "But we won the possession battle because we out-rebounded them by 12. And we turned it over seven more times than they did, so we had five more. You just got to figure out a way to do that."
Butler led for all but thirty-six seconds of the game, getting things started with a Mack three pointer at the 18:09 mark following a cold (and possibly nervous) start for both teams. Leading by as many as eleven points (25-14), the Horizon League champs were outscored 12-2 in a four-minute stretch that saw the Wildcats close to within one point. But as they've done all tournament, Butler re-established control of the game thanks to their defense and taking advantage of scoring opportunities when they didn't turn the ball over. For the Bulldogs to survive 12 second-half turnovers says something about the resolve of their team.
"But the team that plays and stays together and tries to execute the best, oftentimes win," said Stevens. "The team that lets a run against them, oftentimes lose. We let one bad run go against us. That was when we went down one. But those guys believe in each other."
Denis Clemente led the Wildcats with 18 points while Jacob Pullen and Curtis Kelly added fourteen apiece, but the way in which Butler made the two guards work put a damper on Kansas State's offensive output. Clemente and Pullen shot a combined 11-for-30 from the field to go along with two assists and six turnovers. Butler's plan: make someone else beat us, helping on all ball screens and contesting every shot. The Wildcats got into a better rhythm in the second half offensively but the rebounding and missed foul shots (7-14) came back to haunt them in the end.
"That's a credit to Butler," said Kansas State head coach Frank Martin. "They came out and they stayed with those two guys and hounded them. That's why Curt was getting those open looks inside. Then we didn't run great offense either. We accepted their ball pressure, to try to take hurried shots or hurried possessions, which is what we try to do to people, they did it to us." Next up for the Bulldogs is the winner of tomorrow's Midwest Region final between Tennessee and Michigan State.
SYRACUSE: Joe Mazzulla does what he does best: makes winning plays.
There were more than a few people out there who didn't give West Virginia as much of a chance to get out of the East Region following the broken foot suffered by starting point guard Truck Bryant (according to AOL Fanhouse Bryant has been cleared to play next week), citing the stark contrast in season stats. But ever since Mazzulla and head coach Bob Huggins had a talk before the Big East Tournament the point guard has played outstanding. May not have made the biggest impact on the stat sheet but he went out and got the job done, doing whatever the Mountaineers needed from him in order to win.
That stat sheet part changed on Saturday, as he scored a career-high 17 points in his first start to help lead the Mountaineers to a 73-66 win over a Kentucky squad that rolled through the first three rounds. The difference in the Carrier Dome was the three-point shot, with the Mountaineers knocking it down with regularity as they couldn't get anything inside in the first half while Kentucky was ice-cold from deep. WVU, despite not scoring one two-point field goal in the first half, took a 28-26 lead into the locker room due to making eight of fifteen shots from beyond the arc.
"Although they weren't hitting two-point field goals for a certain amount of time, they were hitting three-point field goals," said Kentucky forward Patrick Patterson, who finished with eight points and 13 rebounds. "They still found a way to score."
On the other end, Kentucky missed their first twenty shots from beyond the arc, making just four of thirty-two for the game. In addition to their marksmanship (or lack thereof) credit needs to be given to the 1-3-1 zone that West Virginia played in order to neutralize the likes of DeMarcus Cousins, Daniel Orton and Patterson in the paint. The zone also made life difficult on the perimeter players, with Kentucky turning the ball over sixteen times as a team (Cousins and John Wall had five turnovers apiece). Kentucky outrebounded West Virginia 51-36 but when you get outscored by eighteen points from three chances are you're not going to win, especially if you're not making your free throws either (16-29).
Da'Sean Butler, who hit five threes in the first half, led the Mountaineers with 18 points as four starters reached double figures. But the key player on Saturday was Mazzulla, who got going with his first three pointer of the season in the first half. "I've been shooting the ball really well in practice," said Mazzulla. "It was only a matter of time before I actually hit one. I think my biggest problem was just kind of hesitating. When I saw John [Wall] going under the screen I saw it was a perfect opportunity." Mazzulla used this as a springboard into forays to the basket while also dishing out three assists before fouling out late (played 30 minutes).
Things got a bit tight without a point guard on the floor as Kentucky finally knocked down a few perimeter shots but it was too little, too late in attempting to come back from a 16-point (61-45) deficit. Was it a matter of experience? Maybe in some regards but to use that as the sole reason for Kentucky's defeat would be unfair to a team that's now won ten straight games. The Mountaineers will make their first Final Four appearance since 1959, when Jerry West was the star in Morgantown, taking on the winner of tomorrow's South Region final between Baylor and Duke.
Game of the Day: Butler 63, Kansas State 56
F Gordon Hayward (Butler) 22 points and nine rebounds in the Bulldogs' win over Kansas State.
G Joe Mazzulla (West Virginia) 17 points and three assists in the Mountaineers' win over Kentucky.
G John Wall (Kentucky) 19 points, nine rebounds, five assists and four steals for the Wildcats.