Jim Calhoun's UConn team won the 2011 National Championship game on Monday night, and in the end, nobody deserved it more than Kemba Walker, Jeremy Lamb and the rest of the Huskies. But if you want to talk about the game itself... Good lord.
That might have been the single ugliest championship game we've ever seen. In any sport. At any level. It was like that Parks and Recreation little league basketball game, but instead of Aziz Ansari and Ron Swanson around to salvage things, all we had was Jim Nantz.
"The Huskies are top dog!" Nantz said gleefully at game's end.
"Connecticut's best in show!" he added a few seconds later.
Because it was the Bulldogs vs. Huskies, so... dog puns! And now that Nantz has finished marking his territory on Monday's game, we should add one more. If the Huskies proved themselves top dogs, then the Bulldogs were the ones who took a giant dump in the middle of the court on Monday night.
Butler shot 18 percent for the game, including an awe-inspiring 3-31 on two-point shots. Just a ghastly showing. And not to say I told ya so, but here's what we said on Monday:
Butler's the team that lacks sex appeal, plays by the numbers, and after two hours, leaves you asking: Wait a second, why did I just waste two hours of my life watching that?
On Monday night, everyone was asking that question. Except the answer was simple: It was the National Championship game, supposedly between the two best teams in the country. Of course we all watched. But as it turns out, the best part was the halftime show.
"Well first of all, I'm gonna be honest," Greg Anthony began. "This is the worst half of basketball I've ever seen in a National Championship game." It says a lot that something so simple, probably too simple, could seem so refreshing, but that's exactly what we wanted to hear.
Then it shifted to Seth Davis. "It's almost like these two teams are competing to see who can play worse," he added. "This is a very bad showcase in a National Championship game for college basketball." Again, brutally honest, and completely true. So much better than Jim Nantz's disingenuous lead-in to halftime. "It wasn't pretty, but it was intense."
Even Charles Barkley rattled off a few stats, looked at the score, and said, "That's sad." And he was right. In just about every way possible, that first half was a basketball tragedy. It should be spoken of in hushed tones, and hidden from the impressionable eyes of children everywhere.
"If I told you what I told the kids at halftime, I would probably make one of those YouTube things again," Jim Calhoun told reporters in the post-game press conference. Eventually, though, he made his point.
"You're too good for this," he told his team. "If they beat us, that's fine, but we're not playing full speed. We look awful on offense because we're walking into screens, we're just not doing the things we're capable of doing." And sure enough, UConn came out in the second half looking like the better team. Kemba Walker never quite got into rhythm, but after carrying UConn for the past month, he gets a pass.
And while Kemba struggled against a defense designed specifically to harass him, Jeremy Lamb stepped up to carry the load, scoring all of his 13 points in the second half, and giving the Huskies just enough offense to render Butler's grinding strategy hopeless.
Whether it was Calhoun's inevitably profane pep talk or just the inevitability of order being restored after that apocalyptic first half, it all came together in the final 20 minutes. In the end, it never should have been close. Alex Oriakhi made Matt Howard irrelevant, Jeremy Lamb harassed Shelvin Mack into 4-15 shooting, Kemba Walker guided them calmly on offense, and midway through the second half, UConn had Butler beat. They were the better team.
But where we'll probably look back on 2011 as the year that Kemba Walker owned college basketball, there's no question we'll look back on the 2011 National Championship game as the night when every criticism of college basketball proved true. The tournament itself was great, UConn's a great story, and Kemba Walker's a great player--but GAWD that game was awful.
For instance, people that hate college hoops usually say the sappy narratives overshadow its mostly crappy games. Well, look at the way people fawned over Butler until Monday night, when they got exposed on the biggest stage possible, and even CBS' halftime show couldn't find a way to explain it all away. People say college basketball offenses are mostly just chaos. And you what's a good indication of an offense's success? Assists.
Well, Monday night's game had just 11 of 'em. Between both teams. Eleven.
There were 119 shots taken, and only 11 assists. I guess college hoops lovers might say it's not that bad considering both teams combined for just 31 made shots, but when you're alibi is, "Hey! It's not our fault that nobody made open shots!" then that's a whole other problem.
Throw in Jim Nantz's shmaltzy commentary, the stink of UConn's NCAA violations, and the general clumsiness of everyone not named Kemba Walker or Jeremy Lamb, and you start to see why some rational people might have preferred the Nuggets-Lakers game on Sunday. Even if you love college basketball, it's hard to ignore what happened Monday night.
Maybe it's a sign that the game's changed. Teams experience more turnover than ever in 2011, and programs have less and less time to forge an identity. And to win big in March, that's what a team needs. The stronger the identity, the more they all believe in the identity, the better their chances. So, when the most talented players leave after one and two years, every year, then the teams with the strongest identities won't always be the most talented.
If that sounds like an explanation fit for a kindergarten student, I'm sorry. But watching two teams stumble around in prime time on Monday night, that's how clearly this was all spelled out.
It's why Butler wound up in the title game in the first place. They lacked the talent, but they had a clear-cut identity. A gameplan they all bought into, and one they executed flawlessly. And even if that gameplan was just, "play defense, slow the game down, and hope we somehow hit enough shots to win," the Butler foundation turned out to be more solid than anyone else in the country. Except for UConn.
As for the Huskies... It may be a sign of the times, and it may not have been pretty, but UConn had a gameplan and stuck to it. Kemba was the star, Jeremy Lamb was the sidekick, and everyone else reveled in the dirty work. In the end, that was enough to win it all.
Is that enough to make you forget how they won it?