Keeping Sight of Your Goals through Challenges and Opportunities
Peach Basket Parables: Connecticut vs. Butler,
2011 NCAA Championship Game
For many NCAA Tournament champions, the season leading up to the championship goes pretty much as everyone expected. They go into the season highly rated in the polls, and then they pretty much dominate from start to finish, beating up on lesser opponents as praise gets heaped upon their marquee players, shaking off the rare loss after an off night, and eventually winning their conference title or postseason tournament. Come March Madness, they are in peak form and ready for almost anything an opponent can throw at them.
That is not always how it works out, though. Some champions are not predestined from opening day to win it all. They do not waltz gracefully through the Big Dance. Rather, they trip and stumble their way to victory. Throughout the season, they fight internal battles that spill onto the court and into the box score. And they second-guess themselves all year, until somehow, with remarkable timing, they find a way to capture lightning in a bottle.
The 2010-2011 Connecticut (UConn) Huskies had that kind of a season.
That season started off under a blanket of dark clouds over Storrs, Connecticut. The Huskies had failed to earn an invitation to the NCAA Tournament the season before, and they started 2010 unranked in the national polls. Both snubs were ego busters for a school that had grown accustomed to winning. Though a relative newcomer to the roundtable of basketball royalty, UConn had become a regular national contender in recent decades. Coach Jim Calhoun, at the helm since 1986, had taken the team to the Sweet Sixteen twelve times over twenty years, winning two championships. Those teams included NBA-bound stars such as Ray Allen, Richard “Rip” Hamilton, Donyell Marshall, Rudy Gay, Caron Butler, Emeka Okafor, and Ben Gordon. In 2004, UConn became the first school in history to have its men’s and women’s teams win the NCAA Tournament in the same year. Come 2010, however, Huskies fans were desperate for something to believe in.
Deepening the gloom for them was the fact that the men’s program was under NCAA investigation for recruiting violations. Two members of the basketball staff had already lost their jobs, and rumor had it that the NCAA might ban UConn from all postseason play (though, as it turned out later, Calhoun and his program would dodge a larger bullet and incur only some minor sanctions the following year).
Despite a lack of fanfare surrounding the 2010-11 team, the Huskies shot out of the gate eager to disprove their detractors. They jumped out to a 10-0 start, including winning the Maui Invitational Tournament in November. But the momentum dissipated as UConn’s schedule transitioned over to Big East Conference play, which featured a steady stream of more powerful opponents. The Huskies finished the season a dreary 9-9 in the Big East, losing their last two games to finish in ninth place in the conference.
As the regular season was ending in early March, no one in their right mind picked UConn to go all the way. Then everything changed.
Based on their regular season performance, the Huskies likely would have gone a second straight year without an NCAA Tournament berth. They did not deserve serious consideration. But teams that win their conference tournaments are automatically entered into the Big Dance, and that’s exactly what UConn did.
Kemba Walker, the Huskies’ All-American guard, caught fire and scored a tournament-record 130 points over a stretch of five games in five days. The late resurgence earned the Huskies a number four seed as March Madness began.
UConn won each of its first two games in the NCAA Tournament by more than ten points but had to fight tooth and nail to make it to the championship game, ousting Arizona by two points in a Sweet Sixteen matchup and beating Kentucky by one in a regional final. This Final Four was unique. It was the first ever to not feature a single number one or number two seed. Although UConn would ultimately face eighth-seeded mid-major Butler in the final game, its struggles were far from over.
Better of Two Bad
Butler University, a small school in Indianapolis with a fraction of the basketball clout as its goliath competitors, had nearly pulled off a shocking upset in the 2010 NCAA Tournament championship game, losing to Duke 61-59 when a last-second, desperation three-point shot barely missed what would have been a game winner for Butler. Now, for the second year in a row, the Bulldogs had accomplished the unthinkable and made it to the title game. Sadly for them, their dreams would be dashed yet again, but not because UConn played brilliantly.
The 2011 NCAA championship game will not be remembered for its crisp execution or spectacular shooting—far from it. Some reports called it the ugliest championship game ever played.
Both teams came out cold. After a forgettable first half, UConn trailed Butler in the low-scoring affair 22-19. Then cold turned to downright freezing. Choose your most jaw-dropping statistic:
- Butler had one stretch of 13 minutes and 26 seconds in the second half during which it made only one field goal.
- The Bulldogs shot a woeful 18.8 percent from the field in the game, the worst shooting performance in NCAA Championship Game history.
- Butler made only three two-point field goals for the whole game. Butler could not throw the ball in the ocean, but UConn was not much better.
- The Huskies made only 19 of 55 shots, shooting 34.5 percent for the game.
- They were 1-11 (9.1 percent) from 3-point range, the worst ever for a title winner.
- Star Kemba Walker had 16 points, but they came on 5-for-19 shooting (26 percent).
- UConn’s final point total of 53 was its lowest scoring output of the entire season.
The 94 combined points by UConn and Butler were the fewest in a National Championship game since 1950 (and back then there was no shot clock, which usually meant fewer shots were taken).
You could credit good defense (which UConn did play), or blame the brickfest on frayed nerves. But the fact is neither team played like a national champion that night. Nevertheless, someone had to win, and UConn dragged itself to a 53-41 victory.
The general TV audience might have gotten more entertainment value out of watching paint dry, but UConn and its fans were no less ecstatic to claim their third title in twelve years.
- Former UCLA great Bill Walton, who sat courtside at the 2011 championship game, once scored 44 points in a title game—more than the entire Butler Bulldogs team scored that night.
- In 2011, UConn’s Calhoun became the oldest coach (at sixty-eight) to win an NCAA basketball championship and one of just five to win three or more. The others are John Wooden, Bob Knight, Adolph Rupp, and Mike Krzyzewski.
Chapter-Ending Three Pointer
- Identify previous financial setbacks and/or potential roadblocks in your personal or job situation.
- Think about possible unexpected financial events that might help your family reach your goals.
- List current economic or financial conditions that are beneficial to attaining financial objectives.
© 2014 Chuck Thoele
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