- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 5, 2011

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Butler spent a whole year plotting its Hollywood ending.

The Bulldogs expected to play for a national championship. They expected to bring home the trophy that eluded them last season. And they expected to achieve all that despite their midseason stumbles.

Now, after a second straight title game loss, the Bulldogs will have to settle for being the gold standard for the so-called mid-majors.

“(Butler coach) Brad (Stevens) has done an incredible job,” Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun said after winning his third national title Monday night. “Their kids compete. They run their offense full speed. They were a magnificent opponent.”

Eleven other tourney foes over the last two seasons know exactly what Calhoun means.

The Bulldogs’ list of victims over the past two postseasons includes Florida of the Southeastern Conference, Kansas State of the Big 12, Wisconsin and Michigan State of the Big Ten and Syracuse of Calhoun’s own Big East.

But for the second straight April, Butler’s players and coaches went home dejected.

The Bulldogs’ first loss in two months, ending a 14-game winning streak, puts them on the short list of back-to-back national runner-ups. The others: Ohio State with Jerry Lucas in 1961-62, Houston with Phi Slamma Jamma in 1983-84 and Michigan with the Fab Five in 1992-93.

And while Monday night’s title game will go down as one of the ugliest in history because of Butler’s record-low field goal percentage (18.8), the team has already won over college basketball fans by proving their run to the 2010 championship game was no fluke.

Along they way, the Bulldogs staved off elimination in the seemingly impossible situations.

There was Matt Howard’s buzzer-beater over Old Dominion and the wacky finish against Pittsburgh. Shelvin Mack and Howard helped the Bulldogs survive Wisconsin’s late scoring flurry, and freshmen Khyle Marshall and Chrishawn Hopkins delivered the big plays to force overtime against the Gators.

Then came the showdown with Virginia Commonwealth and, finally, the breakdown against UConn.

“It’s really hard to put that into words right now ‘cause, we wanted a little bit more,” Howard, the senior, said after Monday’s loss. “Maybe at some point I can look back and be proud of what this group has accomplished.”

The greatest tribute to Howard, one of the best players in school history, would be continuing the success.

Butler will lose five seniors who took the program to unprecedented heights by teaching their teammates how to win _ and represent the school _ The Butler Way.

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