INDIANAPOLIS – It will go down as one of the greatest games in NCAA championship history, perfectly captivating for its imperfections.
Years from now, they’ll remember that Duke prevailed over Butler 61-59 on Monday night at Lucas Oil Stadium, claiming its fourth national championship.
Decades from now, they’ll recall how Gordon Hayward’s desperation half-court heave as the buzzer sounded hit the backboard, then hung on the rim before falling away, leaving the hometown, small-school Bulldogs inches from pulling off one of the all-time shockers.
If not for how the ball bounced, they would have flashed back to how the waning seconds played out and how Hall-of-Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski’s strategy backfired and bit him on the behind.
Krzyzewski, whose teams have played in eight championship finales, said it was the best game he’d ever seen.
“I think it will become a historic game, a benchmark game,” he said. “Not just the way it was played, but who played in it and what comes of it.”
Hayward and Butler were still in disbelief as they tried to digest the outcome and how close they had come to striking a huge blow for all schools not affiliated with the so-called Big Six conferences.
“I hate losing,” said Hayward, who scored 12 points but made just 2-of-11 shots. “It’s one of the worst feelings personally that I have ever had. It was great for us to be here, but that’s not what we wanted to do. We wanted to win.
“When I look back, I think it’s just going to motivate me.”
The Bulldogs (33-5) had the ball trailing 60-59 with 14 seconds left and called a timeout to set up a play. Hayward could not get the inbounds pass to a teammate and called the team’s final timeout to regroup.
Butler eventually got the ball in Hayward’s hands. He launched a 15-foot fadeaway jumper on the right baseline. The shot was off the mark and Duke’s Brian Zoubek snared the rebound and was fouled with 3.6 seconds left.
Zoubek made the first free throw and intentionally missed the second, as instructed by Krzyzewski. As Hayward grabbed the rebound and streaked downcourt, Blue Devils defender Kyle Singler was leveled by a screen. He could only watch from the floor as Hayward’s bomb wafted through the air. Scores
“I kind of twisted the right way to see the ball,” Singler said. “I saw it bounce off the backboard and hit the rim. It looked good. You’re wishing, hoping that it won’t go in.”
The fact that it didn’t saved Krzyzewski from second-guessing like he has never seen before.
“They didn’t have any timeouts,” Krzyzewski said. “And if he missed [the free throw], I thought it would take a miracle shot, you know.
“What the hell, it worked.”
When the ball hit the floor Duke was a champion and the Bulldogs were heartbroken.
The score was tied seven times, the lead changed on 15 occasions. Six points was the biggest edge at any point for either team.
The Blue Devils (35-5) led 33-32 at the half and were getting hammered on the boards by smaller, less deep Butler. The Bulldogs held a 24-17 edge on the glass, 12-3 on offensive rebounds.
Reserve Avery Jukes hit two huge 3-pointers and collected 10 points over the first 20 minutes. Through dogged defense, it became clear Butler would make this a ballgame.
Duke won it in the second half with its own efforts defensively and with rebounding. The Blue Devils limited the Bulldogs to 34.5 percent shooting and gained a 20-11 edge on the boards. Every time Butler pulled close, Singler (game-high 19 points, three 3-pointers) knocked down a big shot to stave off the threat. Odds
Zoubek (eight points, 10 rebounds) played the final 9:46 with four fouls. Slowed throughout his career by injuries, the senior savored the championship and his play in the tournament. He had nine or more rebounds in each of the Blue Devils’ final five games.
“I did elevate my game,” he said. “And it was probably noticeable compared to how I played before.”
Fellow senior Jon Scheyer contributed 15 points, five assists and six rebounds. Junior Nolan Smith had 13 points, four assists and three rebounds.
The sum of their efforts was just enough to get past the Bulldogs and win the crown.
Aesthetically, this game was not a thing of beauty. Competitively, it was as good as it gets.
Unless of course you are Butler, winners of its previous 25 games.
“We caught lightning in a bottle and ran with it,” coach Brad Stevens said.
“We almost thought we had an aura that we were going to win every game.”
Both teams will be strong again next season. Krzyzewski said the Bulldogs should be the preseason No. 1 or 2 team. Duke will be either right ahead or right behind. Las Vegas Odds
Maybe we can play this title matchup again in 2011.
That would be perfect.