NEW ORLEANS - For the second time in school history, Butler men's basketball has advanced to the Elite 8. Senior Matt Howard scored 20 points and junior Shelvin Mack added 13 in a 61-54 win over Wisconsin in the NCAA Southeast Regional Semifinal Thursday night in New Orleans Arena. BU will play Florida Saturday with a Final Four berth on the line.
The Bulldogs (26-9) will play the Gators Saturday, March 26 at 4:30 p.m. on CBS.
Howard worked his inside-out game and Mack controlled the contest on the perimeter, and the Bulldogs got big shots from senior Shawn Vanzant, who added 10 points.
The victory sent Butler into the Southeast regional final, where the Bulldogs meet second-seeded Florida (29-7) on Saturday for a trip to the Final Four.
Wisconsin's Jordan Taylor scored 22 on 6-for-19 shooting for Wisconsin (25-9), which shot 30.4 percent (17 of 56). Jon Leuer, normally one of the Badgers' top offensive forces with 18.7 points per game coming in, was 1-for-12 shooting and finished with three points.
Butler, the Horizon League champion, was the aggressor from the outset, using quickness and heady play to counter Wisconsin's size advantage. The Bulldogs took a 6-5 lead on Vanzant's 3 from the corner and never trailed again in the first half.
While the Bulldogs shot 50 percent (12 of 24) in the opening 20 minutes, their defense was equally impressive. Wisconsin came in averaging only 7.5 turnovers per game, but had eight in the first half alone. Taylor, who entered the contest with the nation's best assist-to-turnover ratio at 4.18, had one assist and two turnovers at that point.
Butler stifled UW into poor shooting to make matters worse. The Badgers missed 15 of their first 23 shots. They also uncharacteristically missed four of their first eight free throws after coming in with a nation's best .823 free throw percentage.
Wisconsin wound up with 11 turnovers for the game and went 13 of 19 (68.4 percent) from the foul line.
Butler began to gradually pull away when Smith scored inside and sophomore Chase Stigall turned a steal into a transition 3 to make it 23-16. The Bulldogs later scored the final four points of the first half on Smith's free throw and Howard's second 3 in as many tries, giving Butler a 33-24 lead heading into the locker room.
BU then scored the first nine points of the second half, with Mack scoring five during the spurt, to open up a 42-24 lead.
Soon after, Howard hit one of his three 3s and Andrew Smith added a layup to make it 47-27 with 11:32 to go.
Wisconsin made one last push when Mike Bruesewitz hit a driving layup with 3:21 to go. That sparked a 9-0 run that was capped by Taylor's 3, pulling Wisconsin to 53-49 with 1:38 left.
No stranger to late-game pressure, Butler maintained its composure. Mack came off a screen and drained a jumper from the foul line, then Vanzant added a free throw to make it 56-49.