Focused Practices Helped Butler Rebound From Its VCU DebaclePosted by Jimmy Kelley on March 8th, 2013
Jimmy Kelley is an RTC correspondent. He filed this story after Thursday night’s game between Butler and UMass in Amherst.
Brad Stevens and the Butler Bulldogs suffered one the most lopsided losses of the conference season last Saturday when they were on the wrong end of an 84-52 blowout at the hands of VCU. In the days following the loss the Butler players had team meetings while Stevens and his staff ran some of the most intense, focused practices they have had all season. The result? A convincing 73-62 victory over a scrappy UMass team on the Minutemen’s senior night Thursday. Eleven points may not sound convincing but Butler played their game the entire night and had a near-capacity crowd of 9,341 scrambling for the exits before second-to-last media timeout of the second half.
“[The VCU loss] hit hard,” Butler’s Andrew Smith said. “We knew we had to make changes, define everyone’s roles. We told certain guys ‘we need you to do more of this and less of this.’ If everyone plays hard we’re a tough team to beat.” The win was Butler’s first in over a week after losses to VCU and St. Louis sent the Bulldogs into a bit of a tailspin. Ranked as high as #9 in the AP poll this season and with wins over Indiana and Gonzaga on their resume it was apparent that something had changed over the last week and it was something Stevens was going to have to work on fixing. UMass had given several teams scares this season and employs their own fast-paced style under coach Derek Kellogg, but the Bulldogs had seen what real pressure defense is and would not be shaken by the Minutemen.
“I think we played VCU at their best,” Stevens said. “[UMass' press] is just different. There’s no way to explain why, or how… it’s just completely different [than VCU's]. “We responded. I told them ‘You’re a real Butler team now, because when people doubt you or find yourself getting beat like that, it’s how you respond.’” Butler held a 17-rebound advantage over the Minutemen and despite never leading by more than 14 down the stretch, it felt like the Bulldogs led by 30 or 40. Kameron Woods, a lanky 6’9″ forward, had his best game of the season with 17 points in just 19 minutes on the floor despite spending five minutes on the sideline after slamming his head on the floor. “It hurt really bad,” Woods said. “I thought about what I could do for this team: hustle, rebound and score.” He did all of those things upon returning to the floor and Smith even credited his quick return to the floor as an energizer for the rest of the team.
Woods is a player Stevens has pegged as a key contributor to the future of this program and cites nights like tonight as perfect examples of why he feels so strongly. “I told him going forward, as Butler moves forward, he has to be one of our leaders,” Stevens said. “As he continues to play as he does, that gives him more cache as a guy who can be that rock for us.” Butler has one more game on their schedule — at home against Xavier on Saturday — before next week’s Atlantic 10 tournament kicks off in Brooklyn and still has a chance to grab one of the first-round byes. While the extra day of rest could prove helpful, it isn’t something they are concerned with. “I’m completely indifferent to whether we play next Thursday or next Friday,” Stevens said. “Obviously you want to finish as high as possible, but I just want to play well, play good basketball.”