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UConn a fitting champ in year marked by scandal

This column was written by senior writer Gary Parrish

HOUSTON -- An athletic director (Gene Smith) from a school (Ohio State) whose football coach (Jim Tressel) will be suspended five games next season for violating NCAA rules watched a team on probation (Connecticut) win the national championship, then handed the trophy to a basketball coach (Jim Calhoun) who will be suspended three games next season for illegal recruiting.

And they were both covered in confetti.

So forget Kemba Walker's drives and Jeremy Lamb's dunk and all those shots that left the Butler players' fingertips and never had a chance. That scene on that stage on this court here at Reliant Stadium late Monday should be the lasting image from Connecticut's 53-41 victory.

The Huskies aren't the best national champion ever, but they might be the most fitting.

At a time when criticism of the NCAA has reached an all-time high thanks to a quarterback at Auburn winning the Heisman and BCS trophies despite the fact his father shopped his services for cash, basketball's national champion is coached by a man whose program was punished by the NCAA six weeks ago. In a season when analysts and fans consistently claimed parity reigned, basketball's national champion is coached by a man whose team finished ninth in the Big East with a 9-9 record.

Connecticut won the title?

Of course Connecticut won the title.

The only thing more fitting would've been Bruce Pearl cutting nets.

As for the actual game ... well, it was the opposite of a classic and so poorly played that I'm surprised CBS didn't try to move the action to TruTV mid-dribble. Butler shot 22.2 percent in the first 20 minutes, 16.2 percent in the final 20 and 18.8 percent for the game. The Huskies weren't much better (34.5 percent for the game), but they didn't have to be because Butler was as bad as its reputation is good.

Brad Stevens helplessly watched it all unfold from a stool.

The 34-year-old coach seemed equal parts frustrated, shocked and baffled. At one point, after Shawn Vanzant missed an open 3-pointer and Andrew Smith missed a mostly open layup, Stevens just sat there and smiled. He wasn't happy, obviously. But it was clear, with less than eight minutes remaining and his team trailing by double digits, there would be no miracle comeback, and all Stevens could do was shake his head and smile. Not a single player on the Butler roster shot better than 27.3 percent. Matt Howard, the senior star, finished 1 for 13 from the field, including 1 for 6 from 3-point range. Statistically, it was the worst performance of his otherwise nice career.

"It was awful [watching Howard struggle]," said Smith, who was 2 for 9 from the field. "Unfortunately, like about everybody else, he just couldn't put the ball in the hole."

So Butler lost and UConn won, and the scene made that clear. While the Bulldogs were crying in the locker room after losing in the championship game for the second successive year, the Huskies were celebrating on the court after making Calhoun only the fifth coach in history to win three national titles. Famous UConn alums like Rip Hamilton, Charlie Villanueva, Ben Gordon and Hasheem Thabeet joined them, and then Calhoun made his way back to the interview room, where he was asked about his past, his future and his legacy.

"I used to think that other people write your legacy, [but] I guess as I've seen some things with some of my fellow coaches, like Jim Tressel and other folks, I wonder really what your legacy does become," Calhoun said. "Do facts write [your legacy] or do other people think they can by some supposition define what the facts are or aren't [and write your legacy]? My legacy -- if it ever comes down to who I am, what I am -- all I've ever asked anyone to ever do was talk to my players."

Like Nate Miles?

Miles is the former UConn player at the center of the recruiting scandal that led to Calhoun's troubles. He was caught accepting thousands of dollars worth of improper benefits from a UConn manager-turned-agent named Josh Nochimson, whom Miles has said he knew only because former UConn assistant Tom Moore introduced them. "I was doing what [UConn] was telling me to do," Miles told last week. "Calhoun and everybody on that staff knew Josh was doing that stuff for me. Everybody knew. They were talking to Josh as much as I was talking to Josh."

Miles subsequently told the same thing to the New York Times.

Before tipoff Monday, he released a statement to the Hartford Courant and said he's "not backing off" his previous comments, though the paper reported Miles still has no plans to speak with the NCAA even though investigators have tried for two years to get him on the record.

Either way, a few hours after Miles' statement was released, Calhoun was standing on a ladder, holding a net and waving it to the crowd. The remaining UConn fans cheered and chanted while Pat Sellers, one of the assistants forced to resign from UConn last May because of the NCAA investigation, wore a championship hat and walked around the court as if he were a part of the official team party.

Yep, Connecticut is college basketball's national champion.

In the year of the scandal, this couldn't have ended any other way.

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