UConn’s Lamb silences Butler
Freshman steps up in crunch time with 12 second half points
HOUSTON -- Jeremy Lamb came to Connecticut as one of those freshman with the potential to be an immediate star. Being a McDonald‘s All-American nominee attracts that kind of hype.
Well, on Monday night, with the lights shining bright and the stage the biggest Lamb has played on his young collegiate career, the UConn guard lived up to the high expectations placed upon his shoulders.
The Huskies desperately needed someone to make a play in this tightly contested national championship game against Butler at Reliant Stadium, and Lamb did not disappoint.
Scoreless in the first half, Lamb hit his first field goal of the game, a 3-pointer that gave UConn a 26-25 lead and the Huskies never trailed again.
Lamb continued to provide big baskets the rest of the way, and along with his ability to defend to near perfection, the Huskies (32-9) capped their third national championship in school history with a 53-41 win against the Buldogs (28-10) in front of an electric crowd of 70,376.
Wearing a championship hat and a piece of the net on his ear, Lamb talked about the reason behind his ability to take his game to another level in the final 20 minutes of play against the Bulldogs.
“Coach (Jim Calhoun) got on me at halftime about needing me to step up,” Lamb said. “He told me I needed to make big plays and I was able to do that.”
|MORE FROM HOUSTON|
|• Box score|
|• Photo Gallery|
|• Cross: Dogged determination pays off|
|• Lester: UConn's Lamb silences Butler|
|• Thomas: Not Butler's night|
|• Campus Reaction: UConn | Butler|
|• Interactive Bracket|
|• Printable Bracket|
His most electrifying play of the night started on the defensive end of the floor. Lamb stole the ball near mid-court and raced toward the basket. As he inched closer to the hoop, he soared into the air and threw down a dunk that put UConn in front 31-26 with 12:45 to play.
The crowd roared to its feet, but Lamb wasn’t done yet. He also hit a jumper, scored on an ally-oop layup and nailed a free-throw as the Huskies pulled away from a Butler team hoping to redeem itself after losing 61-59 to Duke in the national final a year ago.
Lamb finished the night with 12 points, all in the second half. As a team, the Bulldogs scored 19 points in the final 20 minutes of action.
As time expired, Lamb joined the frenzied celebration on the floor, savoring the moment as confetti fell from the roof of the stadium and music blared over the speakers.
“It feels great to be a national champion,” Lamb said. “I’m so happy for coach Calhoun and everyone else on this team.”
Lamb entered this game averaging 11.1 points per outing. Yet, his play in the NCAA tournament has been nothing short of phenomenal. The freshman sensation had been clicking for 17 points per outing and shooting 59 percent from the field.
He saved one of his best efforts for last, shooting 4-of-8 from the floor, grabbing seven rebounds, dishing out two assists and tallying one steal as Connecticut won its first title since 2004.
Junior guard Kemba Walker knows a thing or two about rising to stardom. Walker is considered by many to be the best player in the nation and took pride in talking about the way Lamb has grown over the course of this season.
Walker scored 16 points in the victory, capping a remarkable run in which he essentially carried the Huskies on his back, starting with a memorable five-day performance in the Big East tournament.
“Early in the year, Jeremy wasn’t playing with much confidence,” Walker said. “I don’t think he knew his role yet, but as we went on, he learned that he had to score. I told him I would find him for shots and I knew he would hit them. He is a hard worker, always going into the gym after games or practice, and his hard work has paid off.”
Lamb said learning about life at the college level took time and was the reason he struggled at times early in the year.
“I had to adjust to the speed of the game and had to learn to do the little things,” Lamb said. “Coach stayed with me, and my teammates encouraged me, too. They started to trust me and I started hitting shots.”
Lamb had a lot to do with the struggles Butler had offensively. The Bulldogs shot an ugly 18.8 percent from the floor and only Shelvin Mack (13 points) was in double figures. Mack hit a 3-pointer right before the end of the half to give the Bulldogs a 22-19 lead at the break.
Butler was outrebounded 53-41, and while Connecticut only shot 34.5 percent on the night, it did just enough to seal the deal. The Bulldogs had their 14-game win streak snapped, the third longest streak in school history.
“I thought we got decent looks in the second half. We just missed quite a few,“ Butler head coach Brad Stevens said. “Credit Connecticut for defending the way they do because I thought they challenged shots better than any team we’ve played all year.”
While Butler walks into the offseason with its championship dream dashed one more time, the Huskies end this season as perhaps the most unlikely champion.
The Huskies were not even nationally ranked when the season began, and even when they went through a horrible stretch late in the season -- losing four out of five -- they found a way to prove everyone wrong.
Connecticut ended the year with an 11-game win streak and a title. Lamb said he and his teammates take a lot of pride in being able to leave the critics speechless.
“We started the year with a lot of doubters,” Lamb said. “People said we were a one-man team, but we kept working hard all year. We knew we had a good team. It feels good to win a championship after everything we went through this year.”