Monday, March 21, 2011,2:19 p.m.By Benjamin Standig
CSNwashington.comMost entertaining player: Hands down, both on and off the court, it was Butler's eccentric power forward Matt Howard. First, his putback of a carom off the backboard knocked out Old Dominion, fitting since the dogged Howard led the Bulldogs to an upset win on the boards against the nation's top rebounding team.
Then came Howard's heady play to heave a no-prayer shot down the court with the score tied and the clock ticking under the final second. When he felt Pittsburgh's Nasir Robinson's arm drape across himas the two went for a rebound, Howard made the assertive heave, drawingthe nearby official's attention. The referee blew the whistle and the top-seeded Panthers blew yet another quality shot at a Final Four run when Howard sank a free throw with 0.8 showing on the clock.
In addition, the whimsical senior was consistently the best quote of the week and earned that distinction without ever sounding forced or in some cases quite understanding what was so funny. Even better.
Matt Howard quote No.1: On if he were still overcome with exhilaration the morning after scoring the winning points that advanced Butler another round: "It's great to still be going, but my mind-set this morning when I woke up was thinking about breakfast." First points: Old Dominion forward Chris Cooper's layup 19 seconds into Thursday's opener with Butler.
Last points: Jamal Coombs-McDaniel's two free throws with 12 seconds left in Connecticut's 69-58 win over Cincinnati. Perhaps it was a fitting scoring end, as the Huskies made 25 of 30 foul shots against the Bearcats, who as a team only attempted 14.
Most points: 51, from Connecticut's Kemba Walker. The never-tiring, stat-stuffing Huskies star also doled a site-high 17 assists and grabbed 14 rebounds while sitting out just six of the possible 80 game minutes. Slacker. Walker was also perfect on 20 free throws, 14 coming against the Bearcats.
"We didn't want to foul him," Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin said. "He was 14 for 14 from the foul line. That was the difference in the game. You've got to make people make shots. I think Coach Calhoun could have got 30 if we had given him 14 free throws."Most rebounds: 23, from Connecticut's Alex Oriakhi. The Huskies' charismatic 6-9 center, who strode out of the Verizon Center wearing his newly purchased Washington Nationals cap, led Connecticut's dominating 84-48 advantage on the boards.
Most 3-pointers:10, from Butler's Shelvin Mack. Before committing an inexplicable late-game foul that nearly cost his team, the future NBA-er was singeing the Chinatown nets from the long range. Mack drained seven 3-pointers against Pittsburgh and finished with 30 points, the most ever scored by a Butler player in the NCAAs.
Matt Howard quote No. 2: On the infamous thin and throwback-looking mustache he wore last season during Butler's run to the championship game but no longer sports: "I know last year I did us a lot of favor by having that mustache. I'm serious. I think, to some degree, some teams had to look at that and just be like, 'There is no way that guy can play the game at all.'"
First of its kind: The third-round contest between Big East brethren Connecticut and Cincinnati was the first time in NCAA tournament history that two conference foes met before the round of 16.
Silent second banana: Connecticut freshman forward Jeremy Lamb's placid nature does lend itself to grabbing whatever attention is not focused Kemba Walker's way, but his shooting performance spoke volumes -- 6 for 8 from beyond the arc, 11 for 16 from the field and 30 points in two games.
Movin' on up: In the process of dousing the Bearcats with 33 points, Kemba Walker set the Connecticut record for most points (875) in a season, passing Donyell Marshall's mark. The 6-1 junior also moved into seventh place on the Huskies' all-time scoring list, passing, among others, the headband-wearing, longtime NBA forward Cliff Robinson.Gene Hackman would be proud: In the win over Pittsburgh, Shelvin Mack (1,450 points) passed Bobby Plump into 12th place on the Bulldogs' career scoring list. Plump, the inspiration for the Jimmy Chitwood character in the 1986 movie Hoosiers, scored 1,439 from 1954 to 58.Matt Howard quote No. 3: On why the movie he saw on a road trip this year with the team was his first in a theater since he graduated from high school: "I always feel like if you stay two years behind or however long it takes to get out, that's like a brand new movie to you. So why not just wait until it comes out on TV and then it's free? That's the way I look at it."
The all-"We hardly knew you" team
FC - Frank Hassell, Old Dominion. Scored a game-high 20 points in loss to Butler, the only Monarch to reach double figures.
F - Ricardo Ratliffe, Missouri. Led the Tigers with 13 points in the loss to Cincinnati.
C - Mike Muscala, Bucknell. The sophomore and Patriot League Player of the Year scored 14 points against UConn.
G - Matt Dickey, UNC-Asheville. The Pirates play-in game hero scored 21 points in the 74-51 loss to Pittsburgh.
G - Kent Bazemore, Old Dominion. Sank two pressure-packed, game-tying free throws with 32 seconds left against Butler. Bazemore scored six points, grabbed seven rebounds and started following me on Twitter this week. That counts.
Black and White: Even though 20 minutes remained for Cincinnati to rally back from an eight-point deficit against Connecticut, the loss was inevitable. Why? This season, the Bearcats were 25-0 when leading at the break, 0-8 when trailing. Make it 0-9.
Class in defeat: There was nary a "we were hosed" gripe, complaint or rant from the Pittsburgh players or coaches after their excruciating late and bizarre loss to Butler. "We're not wanting to focus on one play, and when you lose or win as a team, you've got to look at the entire game and things you could have done," said Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon. "We're not going to blame the officials."
All-D.C. site team
F - Matt Howard, Butler. Two buzzer-beating baskets, averaged 15.5 points, had real floppy hair.
F - Gilbert Brown, Pittsburgh. 24 points on 8-for-11 shooting, but missed go-ahead free throw with 1.4 seconds left against Butler.
F - Jeremy Lamb, Connecticut. Averaged 15 points.
G - Shelvin Mack, Butler. 45 points combined in the two wins.
G - Kemba Walker, Connecticut. Controlled both games with his scoring, playmaking and energy, doing it all while flashing his 10,000-watt smile and a running on a seemingly never-ending supply of oxygen in his lungs.Honorable mention: Rashad Bishop (Cincinnati), Andrew Smith (Butler)Matt Howard quote No.4: On why he no longer donsthe crumb-catching 'stache: "I just couldn't do that to my team, to myself again this year. ... A lot of people said they liked it. I know they just liked it to laugh at me. That has to be it."
Best game: Not just in the nation's capital, in the entire tournament so far. It seemed like the session's first game, between Butler-ODU, with its 21 lead changes and 10 ties plus the end-game dramatics, would be the clear local winner. Then came the openingcontest on Saturday, between Butler and Pitt.
The first 59 tension-filled minutes alone would have made the game worthy of praise, with the 3-point-shooting Bulldogs racing out to a 12-point lead, only to see the Panthers ferociously rally back and open up a five-pointadvantage of their own. Then the epic qualityof the game was dialed up to 11.
Up one with the ball inside the final minute, Pittsburgh unbelievably turned the ball over on a shot-clock violation. The Bulldogs took advantage and the lead on Andrew Smith's bucket with just over two seconds left. Then came Mack's brain-cramp foul, Brown's missed free throw and Robinson's over-aggressive effort. That led to the final and fatal whistle for the Panthers and Howard's taking advantage of the gift by making the winning foul shot.
The refs made some interesting calls, but the players' actions put the subjective judgments into play. All combined made for some unreal theater.