HOUSTON -- The rims were tight, the shots weren't falling and points were at a premium -- surely one of the ugliest championships played on college basketball's biggest stage.
Ah, but for Kemba Walker and Connecticut, the final score was a thing of beauty.
In a game that featured 40 minutes of guts and grit, UConn made Butler look like the underdog it really was, winning the NCAA men's title Monday night with an old-fashioned, grinding 53-41 beatdown of the Bulldogs.
Walker finished with 16 points for the Huskies (32-9), whose amazing late-season streak could be stopped only by the final buzzer. They won their 11th straight game since closing the regular season with a 9-9 Big East record that foreshadowed none of this.
"Every time we play hard, great things always happen to us," Walker said.
It happened again.
They won the title with a defensive showing for the ages, holding Butler to 12-for-64 shooting. That's 18.8 percent, the worst ever in a title game.
It was the kind of game only a coaching lifer such as Jim Calhoun could love.
"Butler really plays defense," Calhoun said. "I mean, they really play defense. And we really play defense, and I think eventually our quickness and length got to them, but from a purist standpoint, if you really like defense, take a clip of this game."
At age 68, he became the oldest coach to win the NCAA championship. He won his third title since 1999 and joined John Wooden, Adolph Rupp, Mike Krzyzewski and Bob Knight as the only coaches to get to the top three or more times.
He did it to close out a season marked by losing streaks, mistakes made by a young, growing roster and sullied by an NCAA scandal that wrapped up with the embarrassing conclusion that the coach failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance.
Just like the last game, none of this was easy, but the Huskies kept overcoming.
Calhoun coaxed this win out of his team by accepting the reality that the rims were rejecting shots and looked about as wide as a pancake on a cold-shooting, defensive-minded night in cavernous Reliant Stadium. He did it by making his players pound the ball inside and insisting on the kind of defense that UConn played during this remarkable run, but which often got overshadowed by Walker's theatrics.
"So you need to understand that defense is going to take you and hold you in the game until your offense gets going, and that's what I think happened tonight," Calhoun said.
UConn trailed 22-19 after a first half that came straight out of the 1940s.
"The halftime speech was rather interesting," Calhoun said. "The adjustment was, we were going to outwill them and outwork them."
And so they did.
Connecticut outscored Butler by an unthinkable 26-2 in the paint. The Bulldogs (28-10), in their second straight title game and hoping to put the closing chapter on the ultimate "Hoosiers" story, went a mind-numbing 13 minutes, 26 seconds in the second half making one field goal.
During that time, a 25-19 lead turned into a 41-28 deficit. This for a team that never trailed Duke by more than six during last year's epic final.
That time, Gordon Hayward's desperation halfcourt heave at the buzzer bounced off the backboard and rim, barely missing -- a breathtaking ending to a 61-59 loss. This time, UConn was celebrating before the clock hit zero, Calhoun pumping his fists and hugging an assistant while the Huskies ran to the sideline and soaked in the confetti.
Joining Walker, the tournament's Most Outstanding Player, in double figures were Jeremy Lamb with 12 points, including six during UConn's pullaway run, and Alex Oriakhi with 11 points and 11 rebounds.
Just as impressive were the stats UConn piled up on defense. Four steals and 10 blocks, including four each by Oriakhi and Roscoe Smith, and a total clampdown of Butler's biggest stars, Matt Howard and Shelvin Mack. Howard went 1-for-13 and Mack went 4-for-15.
"You just hope the shots go in," Butler guard Zach Hahn said. "That's how it's been all tournament. Whenever we needed a big shot, somebody came up with it. I guess we just ran out of steam. Nobody could make 'em."
Butler's 41 points were 10 points fewer than the worst showing in the shot-clock era in a championship game (Michigan scored 51 in a loss to Duke in 1992), and the 18.8 percent shooting broke a record that had stood since 1941.