The way Kansas State played on Thursday night made the Wildcats a Final Four favorite. Unfortunately, they didn't play that way against Butler, and the Bulldogs declawed the Wildcats, snatching the West Regional's berth to the Final Four with a 63-56 victory.
It would be tempting to just say Kansas State ran out of gas. Sweet Sixteen heroes Jacob Pullen and Denis Clemente combined for 53 points and eight threes against Xavier; against Butler, they had 32 combined points and five combined threes, and shot just 11-of-30 from the field.
Call that being bushed and ambushed by an early start time if you like, but K-State's futility had a lot to do with the folks trying to prevent them from scoring. Butler had just seven steals and no blocks, but kept the speedy Wildcats from scoring in transition and did it cleanly enough to concede just 14 free throw attempts. (The Wildcats missed seven of those, and with seven points exactly the final margin of this one, thatwill probably haunt Manhattanites for a while.)
And Butler's defense more than made up for the Bulldogs' own carelessness (19 turnovers) by coming up big at critical moments. Kansas State had three possessions in the final minutes: Two ended in turnovers and the third produced a meaningless jumper at the buzzer.
That's not to say Butler's offense was awful: Gordon Hayward and Shelvin Mack combined for 38 points on 12-of-25 shooting. But it was the defense that did in Kansas State.
It was the defense that secured Butler's first Final Four appearance, and the first Final Four appearance ever made by a host school.
And it's the defense that will make Butler a favorite in their Final Four matchup against either Michigan State or Tennessee.
Bulldogs is rather fitting, no?â†µ
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