Houston is the home city of two Conference USA basketball teams. That means that there's been some really bad basketball played in this city the last several years. So perhaps it was the lingering stench of C-USA that got inside Reliant Stadium last night and infected what was supposed to be a national title game played by two of the best teams in college basketball.
John Royal And so begins one of the worst championship games in NCAA Tournament history.
But whatever the cause, last night's NCAA title game between the UConn Huskies and the Butler Bulldogs was a game that went into the history books. And the reference to history books is not a good thing as the UConn's 53-42 victory over Butler will go down as one of the worst games in college history not involving a team from C-USA.
Don't believe the record book part? Then try this. The halftime score was 22-19 Butler. That was the lowest combined halftime score since Oklahoma State and North Carolina combined for 40 points in 1946. Butler's 18.8 shooting percentage for the game was the lowest in championship game history. UConn's 19 points at the half was the least since the 1960 championship game. And UConn's 53 points was the lowest point total for a winning team since Kentucky scored 46 points in 1949.
Yes, it was that bad. It was so bad that The Commodores' "Brick House" should have been played at the end of the game instead of "One Shining Moment." It was so bad that the Rice basketball team would have won by 30 points. It was so bad that the Houston basketball team would have been competitive. Hell, it was so bad that Rick Barnes wouldn't have had to even find a way to choke the game away because Texas would have run away with the thing.
The game wasn't even one of great defense. That's not why the point total was so low. The point total was so low because neither team could make open shots. Especially not Butler, which missed countless shots down low, making only three of 31 shots from inside the three-point arc. Yes, you read that right: They were only three of 31 from close range.
"We had quite a few pretty good looks," Butler forward Matt Howard said after the game. "They just weren't going in."
"But offensively" Howard continued on several minutes later, "I felt like people, you know, we kept telling each other, Just keep shooting; some shots are going to go in. It just wasn't happening."
That Butler was even in this game -- UConn didn't begin to pull away until late in the second half -- was somewhat a testament to their defense, but mainly a testament to just how damn bad UConn also was on offense. The Huskies shot only 34.5 percent from the floor, and they hit only one of 11 three-point attempts, tying a dubious record title game mark set by Duke in a loss to UNLV in 1991.
John Royal Butler's Ronald Nored with one of the night's many misses.
"If they beat us, that's fine, but we're not playing full speed," UConn coach Jim Calhoun said he told his team at the half. "We look awful on offense because we're walking into screens, we're just not doing the things we're capable of doing."
The real losers of this game aren't Butler. The real losers aren't the people who watched this game at home -- they always had the opportunity to switch off the TV and turn over to something entertaining. The real losers weren't even a UConn fan base that was so pathetic and apathetic that it had to import Rice and Houston students to make the UConn student section look semi-occupied -- it was nice of UH QB Case Keenum to transfer to UConn for the day to help out.
No, the true losers of this game were the poor souls who forked out their hard-earned cash to attend this pathetic excuse for a basketball game. The people of Houston did their job. They gobbled up the tickets dumped by the disappointed Kentucky faithful and filled Reliant Stadium to a semi-full capacity. And for their reward, they got to sit through a game where so many bricks were shot that it wouldn't be unexpected to walk out of Reliant Stadium and see a brand new condominium complex standing in the parking lot, just waiting for people to move in.
One of the jokes of the Final Four was that this could go down as the vacated Final Four, what with the presence of Kentucky and UConn, two schools currently very high on the NCAA investigation list. But after last night's game, there's only one true punishment that the NCAA can dish out, and it's this: Instead of forcing UConn to vacate its title should the Nate Miles investigation so merit, UConn should be forced to keep on being known as the champion of one of the worst championship-level games ever played.
John Royal Yes, Kemba, it's all over.
SOME MISCELLANEOUS NOTES: UConn is the first national champion with nine-plus losses since Arizona in 1997. UConn is also only the sixth team to win a national title with nine-plus losses....UConn was the first team to rally from a halftime deficit and win the title since UConn rallied from behind to defeat Duke in 1999....Butler became just the fourth team in NCAA tourney history to lose back-to-back national championship games....The Final Four All-Tournament Team consisted of Jamie Skeen of VCU, Matt Howard and Shelvin Mack of Butler, and Jeremy Lamb of UConn. The Most Outstanding Player was UConn's Kemba Walker.