HOUSTON, TX - APRIL 02: Matt Howard #54 and Shawn Vanzant #2 of the Butler Bulldogs celebrate after defeating the Virginia Commonwealth Rams during the National Semifinal game of the 2011 NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Championship at Reliant Stadium on April 2, 2011 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Final Four: Butler Moves To Second Straight NCAA Championship Game With 70-62 Win Over VCU

For the second straight year, Butler will play in the 2011 NCAA Championship game. Who could have predicted that?

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VCU Vs. Butler, 2011 Final Four Final Score: Bulldogs Advance To Second Straight NCAA Title Game

Butler Vs. VCU was a tight game throughout in the first 2011 Final Four contest of the night, and tight games are where Butler shines. The Bulldogs just made more plays down the stretch, holding off VCU and advancing to its second straight NCAA championship game with a 70-62 victory. 

Matt Howard was the man who made the big plays for the Bulldogs late. Jamie Skeen hit a three-pointer to cut Butler's lead to 61-57, but then Howard took over. He slipped in for the offensive rebound and putback to give the Bulldogs a 63-57 lead, then stoned Darius Theus at the rim with under a minute remaining, grabbing the rebound and essentially ending the game. Butler padded its lead with free throws at the end, meaning the final score was not indicative of how close the game was.

Shelvin Mack had 23 points to lead Butler, while Howard added 17. Skeen led all scorers with 27 points, playing his heart out in defeat.

More 2011 March Madness resources: Visit our NCAA Tournament hub for up-to-date news and information ... updated printable NCAA 2011 Tournament bracket ... the full NCAA Tournament schedule.

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Butler Vs. VCU Score: Shawn Vanzant Gives Bulldogs 61-54 Lead

As this Final Four game between Butler and VCU comes down the stretch, Butler appears to be the more poised team. The Bulldogs lead, 61-54, with under three minutes remaining. 

Two free throws by Shawn Vanzant gave Butler a 58-52 lead, as the Bulldogs continue to play with Matt Howard on the bench with four fouls. Ronald Nored had a chance to extend the lead, but missed the front end of a one-and-one. Bradford Burgess hit two free throws to get VCU to within 58-54, but VCU missed two chances to get closer. Jamie Skeen had a layup, but Andrew Smith stoned him at the rim, sending Skeen sprawling to the floor. 

Butler took advantage of VCU's poor offense on its next possession. Shelvin Mack skipped a crosscourt pass to Vanzant, who nailed a three-pointer from the left corner with a man in his face to give Butler a 61-54 lead with under three minutes remaining. 

More 2011 March Madness resources: Visit our NCAA Tournament hub for up-to-date news and information ... updated printable NCAA 2011 Tournament bracket ... the full NCAA Tournament schedule.

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Final Four, Butler Vs. VCU: Shelvin Mack Pushes Butler To Four-Point Lead

Both teams have started to dig in as this Final Four game between Butler and VCU hits the final stretch. Shelvin Mack carried Butler to a 10-2 run, but VCU has responded and now trails just 56-52 with 5:58 remaining in the game. 

Mack began the Butler run with a three-pointer to push Butler to a 47-43 lead, and Jamie Skeen followed with a missed layup. After two Skeen hit two free throws, Butler kept coming. Mack hit a three-pointer from the top of the key, then forced a turnover that led to a layup by Mack and a seven-point lead with 9:39 left.

VCU called timeout, and responded as it has all tournament. Skeen powered through two defenders, scored and drew the fourth foul on Matt Howard, cutting the Butler lead down to 52-47. Mack hit a seemingly impossible fadeaway, but Joey Rodriguez got on the scoreboard on the ensuing possession with a long three-pointer from the top of the key. Shawn Vanzant and Darius Theus then traded shots on the teams' next possessions before the timeout.

More 2011 March Madness resources: Visit our NCAA Tournament hub for up-to-date news and information ... updated printable NCAA 2011 Tournament bracket ... the full NCAA Tournament schedule.

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VCU Vs. Butler Score: Zach Hahn Catches Fire As Bulldogs Inch Ahead

Zach Hahn has caught fire for Butler in its Final Four game against VCU. Hann scored eight points in the last four minutes, pushing Butler to a one-point lead with under 12 minutes to go in the game. 

Matt Howard halted VCU's 7-0 run with a layup in the post, giving Butler a 36-35 lead with just over 16 minutes remaining in the second half. But after a TV timeout, Shaka Smart took a risk and brought Jamie Skeen back in with three fouls. Skeen rewarded his faith initially, nailing a three-pointer to push VCU back up, 38-36.

But then Hahn got it going. He nailed a three-pointer to put Butler back up, 39-38, then hit another one after Skeen got a three-point play. VCU retook the lead when Bradford Burgess blocked a layup and Joey Rodriguez found a cutting Brandon Rozzell backdoor for a layup, but Hahn did it again, this time with a reverse layup to give Butler a 44-43 lead.

More 2011 March Madness resources: Visit our NCAA Tournament hub for up-to-date news and information ... updated printable NCAA 2011 Tournament bracket ... the full NCAA Tournament schedule.

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Final Four, VCU Vs. Butler Score: Rams Open Half On 7-0 Run To Take Lead Back

VCU has made its run at the beginning of the second half of its Final Four game against Butler. The Rams began the second half on a 7-0 run, wresting control back from Butler and taking a 35-34 lead with 16:22 remaining.

VCU got on the board first in the second half when Toby Veal drove down the lane for a layup. Butler then turned the ball over, and VCU cut the lead to 34-33 when Juvonte Reddic took a pass and laid it in.

Butler had a couple chances to stop the run, but missed both, turning it over both times. VCU then continued its run when Reddic hit a jumper from 17 feet to give the Rams a 35-34 lead.

VCU does have some bad news, though, as Jamie Skeen, who led the team with 12 points in the first half, picked up his third foul going for an offensive rebound.

More 2011 March Madness resources: Visit our NCAA Tournament hub for up-to-date news and information ... updated printable NCAA 2011 Tournament bracket ... the full NCAA Tournament schedule.

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VCU Vs. Butler, 2011 Final Four: Bulldogs Hammering Rams Inside, Lead At Half

Butler has slowly rallied in the first half of its FInal Four game against VCU, and it now leads 34-28 at halftime. The Bulldogs closed the half on a 12-4 run after trailing by as many as eight points early on in the half.

Butler started to assert control of the game right after the under-four minute timeout, getting two free throws from Shelvin Mack, a layup from Khyle Marshall and another free throw from Matt Howard after he stole the inbounds pass. Two more Howard free throws pushed the lead back up to 32-28, and another offensive rebound for Howard led to a putback and a 34-28 lead that it held into halftime.

Shelvin Mack has 13 points to lead Butler, but it's been Butler's eight offensive rebounds that have been the key in the first half. Jamie Skeen leads VCU with 12 points. 

Foul trouble has been an issue for VCU. D.J. Haley picked up three fouls in a short span late in the first half, and Skeen, Toby Veal and Ed Nixon has two points each. Shaka Smart rolled the dice and brought Skeen back into the game late in the first half, but he did not pick up a second half.

More 2011 March Madness resources: Visit our NCAA Tournament hub for up-to-date news and information ... updated printable NCAA 2011 Tournament bracket ... the full NCAA Tournament schedule.

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VCU Vs. Butler Score: Shelvin Mack Gives Butler First Lead Of Game

Shelvin Mack has taken over this 2011 Final Four game for Butler against VCU. Mack has 11 points in the game, and gave Butler its first lead of the game at 25-24 with a three-pointer with just over four minutes remaining.

VCU pushed its lead to 20-15 with seven minutes remaining in the first half, but then Mack responded, hitting a three-pointer to cut the lead to 20-18. Mack scored the first five points of the game, but had been quiet until nailing that three-pointer. Butler then tied the game up when Shawn Vanzant hit a pull-up jumper as Matt Howard screened his man, preventing VCU from contesting the shot. Jamie Skeen then untied the game by backing down Ronald Nored and hitting another hook shot in the lane, his 10th point of the first half. Two free throws by Andrew Smith tied the game at 22 with 5:41 remaining, but Skeen continues to dominate inside, getting another layup on VCU's next possession.

But then Mack struck again. He dribbled up the right side, stepped back and hit a dagger three-pointer, giving Butler its first lead of the game. Mack has 11 points for the game to lead the Bulldogs, and has hit big shots at points when they really need him.

More 2011 March Madness resources: Visit our NCAA Tournament hub for up-to-date news and information ... updated printable NCAA 2011 Tournament bracket ... the full NCAA Tournament schedule.

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FInal Four, Butler Vs. VCU Score: VCU Inches Ahead, 17-15, In First Half

Butler and VCU continue to battle in the first half of a Final Four showdown, and neither team was able to get much going in the past few minutes. Both teams exchanged turnovers and missed shots as defenses started to tighten up and nerves started to kick in.

Butler rallied to tie the score at 15, but then Jamie Skeen scored a lefty hook shot in the lane to stop the run. After a miss by Khyle Marshall on the baseline, both teams exchanged turnovers to end the half, and Ed Nixon also missed a three-pointer from the corner off a kickout pass from Skeen.

Butler took both Matt Howard and Shelvin Mack out of the game for a spell as it was rallying, but now, both are back into the game.

More 2011 March Madness resources: Visit our NCAA Tournament hub for up-to-date news and information ... updated printable NCAA 2011 Tournament bracket ... the full NCAA Tournament schedule.

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VCU Vs. Butler Score: Matt Howard, Butler Rally Thanks To Offensive Rebounding

Butler has started to assert itself on the offensive glass, and that has keyed a comeback in its Final Four game against VCU. The Bulldogs are on a 8-0 run to tie the score at 15 with 10:15 remaining.

Jamie Skeen, who took a hard fall going into the under-16 minute timeout, hit one of two free throws to push VCU's lead to 12-7. VCU then stifled Butler with its pressure defense, forcing a wild miss by Butler. Butler's struggles continued, as Matt Howard rushed a three-pointer on Butler's next possession, eventually leading to another three-pointer by Burgess from the right corner for a 15-7 VCU lead.

But that was when Butler started to rally. Butler got two points back with two Howard free throws, then forced a VCU turnover on its next possession. Howard then asserted his presence on Butler's next possession, carving out offensive rebound position and drawing a foul while trying to tip it in. He hit two free throws to pull Butler to within 15-11 with 12 minutes remaining. Darius Theus looked like he had a layup for VCU on the other end, but blew it at the other end, and Andrew Smith pulled Butler to within 15-13 after another offensive rebound and putback. Khyle Marshall then finished the run with -- you guessed it -- a putback layup while drawing the foul.

More 2011 March Madness resources: Visit our NCAA Tournament hub for up-to-date news and information ... updated printable NCAA 2011 Tournament bracket ... the full NCAA Tournament schedule.

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VCU Vs. Butler, Final Four Score: Rams Hot Early, Lead 11-7

It's been a game of runs early in this Final Four showdown between VCU and Butler. The Bulldogs scored the first five points of the game, but VCU responded with 11 straight points as it got its three-point game going. VCU leads 11-7 at the 14:57 mark of the first half.

VCU opened the game by getting a good look inside for Jamie Skeen, but he missed the left-handed layup. At the other end, Shelvin Mack started off on the right foot, nailing a three-pointer from the corner. VCU, meanwhile, missed its first three three-pointers, including a wide open miss by Ed Nixon. Mack then slipped backdoor for an easy layup, and Butler took a 5-0 lead in the first two minutes of the game.

Bradford Burgess, though, got VCU on the board with a three-pointer from the corner, and then Jamie Skeen nailed a three-pointer after Andrew Smith missed a point-blank layup. On the ensuing Butler possession, it turned it over, and Burgess hit another three-pointer, this time from the right corner. 

After a Mack miss, Skeen completed the 11-0 run by drop-stepping to the left block and laying it in. Khyle Marshall stopped the run with a putback layup, but the pace of the game certainly favors VCU.

More 2011 March Madness resources: Visit our NCAA Tournament hub for up-to-date news and information ... updated printable NCAA 2011 Tournament bracket ... the full NCAA Tournament schedule.

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VCU Vs. Butler, Final Four 2011: Preview, Predictions For 6:09 ET Tipoff

Don't call it the clash of Cinderellas: Butler vs. VCU might be one of the most unlikely Final Four matchups from the 2011 NCAA Tournament bracket, but both low-seeded teams have made their Big Dance runs based on toughness rather than finesse. Butler's won three games by three points or less, while VCU's relentless defense has throttled such blue-bloods as Kansas, Georgetown, and Purdue. We'll find out which mid-major advances to the NCAA Tournament final this Saturday at 6:09 p.m. Eastern, according to the Final Four schedule, and Jim Nantz and Clark Kellogg will have the call in Houston.

Butler's 2011 NCAA Tournament run, which began with a buzzer-beating tip-in to beat Old Dominion in the second round, has produced the Bulldogs' second consecutive Final Four appearance and vaulted wunderkind coach Brad Stevens to the forefront of his profession. But the Bulldogs have gotten here on the back of solid play from their roster, not just Stevens' excellent schemes: Matt Howard put in the tip against Old Dominion, Shelvin Mack starred against Pittsburgh, and little-used reserve Chrishawn Hopkins provided a spark against Florida. If Ronald Nored can play the sort of defense he's renowned for against VCU point guard Joey Rodriguez, expect Butler to be playing for an NCAA championship for the second time in as many years.

VCU's run to the Final Four has taken them through one team from every BCS conference but the SEC — and if they beat Butler and face Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament final, the Rams will have completed a postseason tour of the richer, football-heavy conferences. For the Rams to do that, they will likely need to force Butler to play at their pulse-pounding tempo; VCU is at its best when Rodriguez is distributing the ball to three-point shooters in transition and penetrating for easy buckets, and when the Rams' pressure on defense forces turnovers in bunches. If the threes don't fall, though, a lack of size inside makes the Rams susceptible to bigs like Butler's Howard and Andrew Smith. Butler doesn't have a player quite as versatile as VCU's Jamie Skeen, though, and the lanky Ram could be a huge matchup problem for the Bulldogs.

Star Watch: Nored contributes next to nothing on offense, which makes his defensive contributions even more important. If he can disrupt what Rodriguez and the Rams want to do around the perimeter, it will be a big boost to Butler's chances.

Prediction: Butler's playing a team with less talent than it has for the first time in this NCAA Tournament, and that's a good thing for the Bulldogs: they'll win, 68-59, as the threes that have buoyed VCU throughout this marvelous run to the Final Four desert them.

More Reading: SB Nation Indiana has more on the Butler Bulldogs' Final Four, and SB Nation DC has plenty of VCU Rams coverage. Want to learn more about the 2011 NCAA Tournament in general? Check out SB Nation's NCAA Tournament hub.

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