Sat. Final: Butler 78, UWM 48
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- Butler coach Brad Stevens spent the past two days contemplating how to defend Wisconsin-Milwaukee's shooters.
There was no reason to worry.
The 16th-ranked Bulldogs allowed only four baskets outside of 4 feet and used their suffocating defense, rather than the usual array of 3-point shooters, to rout the Panthers 78-48 on Saturday.
"They're a really good offensive team and you'd like to think you're playing really good defense," Stevens said. "But sometimes you have one of those nights, and I think that's what happened to Milwaukee. But I always say I hope we play our best defense tomorrow."
Better than this?
Milwaukee (12-8, 7-3 Horizon League) came into the game with the second-highest scoring average in the conference but shot just 24.1 percent from the field -- a number that hovered in the teens most of the game. The Panthers committed 18 turnovers and finished with 13 field goals, two fewer than Butler's season-high total of 3-pointers.
The wide disparity was enough to make Panthers coach Rob Jeter repeatedly shake his head in disbelief.
If Stevens is right and the Bulldogs do play better defense, the Horizon League title chase could get even more lopsided. Butler knocked off its two nearest challengers in less than 48 hours and has a commanding two-game lead in the loss column over Wisconsin-Green Bay, which played Saturday night at Valparaiso.
Meanwhile, the milestones are piling up for a Butler team that starts three freshmen.
The Bulldogs (18-1, 9-0) have won 10 straight overall, 14 in a row at home and swept through the first half of the conference schedule with a perfect record for the first time in school history. Their 18-1 record is also a school first and with 20 straight wins over conference foes, Butler can tie the league record of 21 with a victory at home Friday against Valparaiso.
And Butler keeps finding new ways to win.
On Thursday, it took a 46-point second half to rally against Green Bay.
On Saturday, they didn't even need Shawn Vanzant's career-high 20 points thanks to a combination of defense, discipline and determination that limited Milwaukee to 3-of-24 shooting in the first half.
"It was fun to watch the white team (Butler) perform," Jeter said. "Wow! I just have a lot of respect for guys who play with passion, stick together and play with a plan. For us, we need to regroup, obviously."
It was easily Milwaukee's worst week of the season.
The Panthers had won seven straight before losing Thursday and getting blown out Saturday, and they hardly resembled the team that anticipated ending their losing streak against Butler. Instead, they have lost five straight to the Bulldogs, none more embarrassing than this one.
Only one player, Tone Boyle, reached double figures Saturday. Boyle scored 15 points and made two of the Panthers' three 3-pointers. The longest basket Milwaukee made inside the arc was an 8-footer by 310-pound James Eayrs with 9:52 left in the game.
"We wanted to put them on their heels and really attack them," said Butler's Gordon Hayward, who had four steals and a block, all in the first half. "That was the focus and defense is always a focus for us. I think we did a good job tonight."
Not surprisingly, Butler took advantage of the miscues.
Shelvin Mack opened the game with consecutive 3s, and the Bulldogs used a 13-2 run to take a 23-8 lead with 7:44 left in the half.
The Panthers made only one real challenge, scoring seven straight points to close to 23-15 with 6:27 to go.
But the Bulldogs closed it out quickly.
They scored the final four points in the first half, making it 32-19, and opened the second half on a 13-2 spurt to make it 45-21. Butler led by as many as 25 points before yanking the starters with about 8 minutes to go.
Mack finished with 14 points and Grant Leiendecker added 12 for Butler on a night the defense surprised Stevens.
"No way, no way," Stevens said when asked if he expected this kind of performance. "I was really concerned about this team because they put points up in a hurry. But I thought we guarded with tremendous energy."
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)