Lamont Butler Sends the Aztecs to the National Championship
LAMONT BUTLER SENDS THE AZTECS TO THE NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP- The Final Four did not disappoint. The San Diego State Aztecs were down to Florida Atlantic by 14 in the second half, and it kept looking like Dusty May’s team was headed to the National Championship Game. However, once again, the Aztecs flipped a switch.
They finished the game on an incredible run by playing lockdown defense and getting huge baskets from their playmakers. Then, the madness happened. With Florida Atlantic up 71-70, Johnell Davis missed a layup and Nathan Mensah grabbed the rebound.
The Aztecs had one timeout left, but Brian Dutcher didn’t bat an eye and let his players do the rest. With three bigs on the floor – Nathan Mensah, Aguek Arop, and Keshad Johnson – it was the Lamont Butler show.
Butler drove to the other end of the floor, got cut off heading towards the rim, moved to his left, and rose for the biggest shot of his life. It went through the nets at the buzzer, and pure elation filled the San Diego State bench, sideline, cheer section, NRG Stadium, and Viejas Arena back in San Diego, where thousands of fans were watching the game.
Once again, the Aztecs won by one point, and once again, it was another player stepping up when it mattered most. Against Creighton, Butler led the team in scoring, but Darrion Trammell hit the game-winning free throw. This time, Butler hit the game-winning shot.
That’s what this team does: Fight, grind, and depend on one another. Now, they face UConn in the National Championship Game on Monday night, a scene that nobody thought was possible except for the Aztecs. Here’s what Matt Bradley said in his postgame interview with Andy Katz:
“I don’t even know what to say right now. This is crazy. Who would’ve imagined but us?”
The Aztecs have won five games so far in the tournament and have had four players lead the team in scoring. Matt Bradley did so against Charleston in the Round of 64, then he responded with 21 points on the biggest stage.
The Aztecs gave up 40 points in the first half, which is a bit uncharacteristic for this group, but Brian Dutcher’s team settled down, locked in, and did what they do best — control the pace down the stretch.
Well, the Aztecs did imagine, and now they are 40 minutes away from a national title.
The UConn Huskies are doing everything right. They have won all five games in March Madness by double figures, including a 28-point Elite Eight win over Gonzaga and a 13-point victory over Miami in the Final Four.
Dan Hurley’s team is clicking on all cylinders, and Adama Sanogo led the way with 21 points and 10 rebounds against the Hurricanes.
Jordan Hawkins is an NBA player likely headed for the 2023 NBA Draft, and Andre Jackson Jr. is a tough player to guard.
The Huskies entered Sunday morning as 7.5-point favorites, which is a pretty decent line for the national title game.
Now, keep in mind UConn hasn’t faced anything like this San Diego State team. The Aztecs are coming off back-to-back one-point victories, have come from behind in the last three games, and play nine players a lot of minutes.
Nathan Mensah, Aguek Arop, and Keshad Johnson will be a tough trio for Sanogo to deal with, and the ball pressure of Darrion Trammell and Lamont Butler will be another tall task for Hawkins and Jackson.
The Huskies also haven’t played a game decided by single digits since the Big East Tournament loss to Marquette. Yes, they are blowing people out, but will they be able to hang around in a tight contest? The Aztecs don’t go away, as seen from the past three games, and Brian Dutcher will have his team ready.
This game is going to be a thrilling one to watch. The question is, will there be more heroics from San Diego State?
If I had to guess, I’ll roll with the Aztecs, the best story of the season and the team that refuses to go away in any game on any stage. This game has Villanova-North Carolina vibes written all over it. Who will be the hero?