HOUSTON -- So the game ends, and here's what happens. Butler has just beaten Virginia Commonwealth 70-62 in the first Final Four matchup on Saturday night, and the guy in charge of the Butler mascot leads that stocky, little, adorable bulldog onto the Reliant Stadium court.
All hell is breaking loose around him -- players hugging, coaches shaking hands, Shawn Vanzant strutting over to the Butler cheering section and popping the front of his jersey, the part that says "Butler" -- and the guy in charge of the bulldog does something crazy.
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He takes off the leash.
And I'll be damned, but the dog just sits there. A football stadium full of people is screaming, a band is playing, TV people are scrambling and players are celebrating. And there's the dog. Sitting there. Because that's what he's been trained to do.
And I'm thinking: This disciplined, cerebral Butler team isn't an extension of its disciplined, cerebral coach.
It's an extension of the dog.
Because that's how Butler beat VCU on Saturday night. Butler stayed right where it was trained to stay -- on defense, I mean -- and that meant VCU didn't get the kind of open 3-point shots it had enjoyed for five games. The Rams had been averaging 11 such baskets per game, and shooting 44 percent from beyond the arc, using those bundles of points and that efficiency to overcome poor rebounding.
Didn't happen Saturday. Other than a three-minute spurt early in the game, when VCU hit a trio of 3-pointers to turn a 5-0 deficit into an 11-5 lead, the Rams couldn't do to Butler what they had done to Kansas and Georgetown, and to Purdue and Florida State. That's because Butler wouldn't allow it.
When a VCU player drove his Butler defender into the lane, the rest of the Bulldogs stayed. They stayed with their man, critical considering VCU always has four guys on the floor who can shoot the 3-pointer, and occasionally all five. But it's not so easy to shoot the 3 with a defender in your face, as VCU discovered.
"They tried to take it away, that's for sure," said VCU senior guard Ed Nixon. "We'd attack, and nobody would help. They were disciplined."
Were disciplined. Are disciplined. Forever will be disciplined. That's the Butler way, and it explains how this smallish school (4,400) from that smallish conference (the Horizon) with that smallish tradition (one NCAA tournament appearance before 1997) has now joined the biggest powerhouses in college basketball history by making a repeat appearance in the national championship game.
Any idea how hard that is, getting to the title game two years in a row? It happens, maybe more than you think -- more than a dozen have done it -- but you have to understand something. You have to understand what those other schools were, and who they had on their team.
There was the Florida uprising of 2006-07. The loaded Kentucky teams of 1997-98. Michigan's Fab Five in the early 1990s. Duke, with Laettner and Hill and Hurley. Pat Ewing and Georgetown. Michael Jordan and North Carolina. The UCLA dynasty of Alcindor and Walton. Ohio State with Jerry Lucas and John Havlicek. Cincinnati with Oscar Robertson. Bill Russell and San Francisco.
Butler doesn't have a Bill Russell or a Michael Jordan. No Pat Ewing. No Bobby Hurley. Lew Alcindor? Please.
Butler might not have one NBA player -- although Shelvin Mack has a chance -- but what Butler has is that spooky discipline, that preternatural calm. And here, yes, I will tell you that Butler takes after its coach.
Brad Stevens watches the game like a librarian watches a shelf of books. He doesn't say much, and he never screams. When the game is at the other end of the floor, he grabs a chair and sits down. I swear, he does. He sits there with his jacket on and his tie just right, his glasses not sliding off his face because he's not sweating in the slightest, and he watches as his team runs its recital.
The high notes Saturday were perimeter shots for Mack, free throws for Matt Howard. Mack scored 24 points on just 11 shots, getting the kind of offensive efficiency VCU received earlier this tournament from Bradford Burgess or Brandon Rozzell. How? Mack shot six 3-pointers. And made five. Wow.
Meanwhile, Howard was content to dig through the garbage can under the basket for his points. He grabbed entry passes or offensive rebounds -- he wasn't particular -- and when he had the ball in scoring position he was fouled. Twelve times he went to the line. Eleven times he converted. Wow.
Skeen was unhappy afterward, but don't hold the following against him. He had just played the game of his life (27 points, six rebounds, three assists) on the biggest stage of his life, and the competitive juices were mingling with disappointment when he called Howard "a flopper ... everyone knows he's a flopper." Skeen is the same guy who said the Morris twins of Kansas "were some buttholes," so he's a free spirit or a loose cannon. Whatever he is after the game, he has been magnificent during the game -- Saturday, and all tournament.
But there can be only one winner, and Saturday night that winner was Butler. Just like the winner one year ago, on a Saturday night just like this, was Butler. In two days the Bulldogs will play for the national championship for a second consecutive season, and so Matt Howard will join the likes of Ewing, Russell, Alcindor and Walton -- and Brad Stevens will join Krzyzewski, Thompson, Smith and Wooden.
The Butler bulldog will be there, too. He joins nobody. That little sucker is in a class all by himself.