Continued from page 1

Yet Howard’s greatest attribute may be compelling his teammates not to take plays off _ and to believe they will win, no matter what happens.

“I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that Matt Howard makes sure we all play a full 40 minutes,” Stevens said.

Most of Butler’s key players have been together for three seasons, which gives them the freedom to them improvise when necessary.

Take the play that gave Butler a 70-69 lead with 2.2 seconds left Saturday.

Stevens called for senior guard Shawn Vanzant to drive to the baseline and dish to Howard. But with defenders converging and Howard covered, Vanzant saw the wide-open Smith underneath the basket for an easy layup to give Butler a 70-69 lead with 2.2 seconds to go. He never hesitated.

To the nation, it was another chapter in Butler’s incredible run. To the Bulldogs, it was just another play in another game.

Over the past two seasons, Butler has gone 12-6 in games decided by one or two points or in overtime and the Bulldogs have been even better come tourney time. They are a remarkable 5-1 in postseason games decided by four or fewer points over the past two years, coming within that infamous bounce of being 6-0.

Opponents, including fourth-seeded Wisconsin, know what they’re getting when they draw Butler (25-9), too.

“They’re not an underdog at all. They have talent all over their team,” Badgers forward Jon Leuer said in preparation for Thursday night’s game against the Bulldogs. “They have guys that can really fill it up and they’re well coached, too. You mix that talent with the coaching they have and you’re going to be in for a battle.”

Especially if the game comes down to the final possession.

“I think if you look at us right after that call (against Mack), there was head-scratching for a few snippets,” Howard said. “But you have to believe they’re going to miss one of those two and that you’ll have a chance. I think any time you have a coach who is that calm and that confident, that helps, and being through what we’ve been through helps, too. We just believe in ourselves.”