SALT LAKE CITY — It's an easy five-mile drive from the Butler campus to the site of its next game, in downtown Indianapolis. Still, it's hard to think of many programs that have taken a longer, more unlikely road to the Final Four.
Yes, the boys from Butler did it — defeating Kansas State 63-56 in the West Regional final Saturday to make their trip back home something much bigger than that.
The fifth-seeded Bulldogs, the team that plays in the fieldhouse where "Hoosiers" was filmed, are writing their own underdog story, even if they can't really be called underdogs anymore.
Gordon Hayward scored 22 points and Shelvin Mack had 16 to help Butler (32-4) win its 24th straight game and become the first school from a true, mid-major conference to make the Final Four since George Mason in 2006 — a trip that also ended in Indianapolis.
Trailing almost the entire game, No. 2 Kansas State (29-7) rallied to tie it at 54 with 3:09 remaining. But Butler didn't fold, it only got better. The Bulldogs scored the next nine points to seal the game before K-State guard Jacob Pullen's shot at the buzzer dropped — but offered no consolation.
Enrollment at Butler is about 4,500, about 15 of whom have reminded everyone why college basketball captures America's heart this time every year.
They are weaving a story about the overlooked and underappreciated getting their time in the limelight, the kind of tale every underdog, from Charlie Brown to Gene Hackman, has to love.
But make no mistake — this is not some scrappy, overmatched team that needed a break, no Danny and the Miracles, or Villanova shooting 79 percent to knock off mighty Georgetown.
This is a team that stood toe-to-toe with Syracuse on one night, then Kansas State the next, shutting down two power teams from power conferences with legitimate stars of their own.
Pullen and teammate Denis Clemente didn't score a point for Kansas State until 15 seconds were left in the first half, and it was no matter of luck. Rather, it was the tough, in-your-face defense of Ronald Nored and Willie Veasley that did it — smothering a pair of players who had combined for 53 points two nights earlier in a double-overtime win against Xavier.
Clemente finished with 18 and Pullen with 14, but they shot a combined 11-for-30.