The first half belonged to Butler in Salt Lake City, where the Bulldogs held high-scoring Kansas State to 35 percent shooting and without a 3-pointer. The Wildcats are also 0 for 4 from the foul line and have turned the ball over an uncharacteristic eight times.
The Bulldogs' backcourt is earning MVP honors for holding Jacob Pullen and Denis Clemente to a combined two points. They came just before the buzzer, when Pullen stuck his hand into a passing lane, tossed ahead the loose ball as he was sailing out of bounds, and Clemente finished the layup to make it 27-20 at halftime.
Twenty minutes left for a spot in the Final Four.
Butler has been proficient on offense, going 4 of 9 from beyond the arc and getting to the free throw line. Shelvin Mack just knocked down a pull-up jumper in transition, then drained a couple of foul shots to give seven points for the game.
Mack checked out for a well-deserved rest.
The Wildcats are relying heavily on Connecticut transfer Curtis Kelly; Denis Clemente and Jacob Pullen still have a couple of goose eggs in the box score.
Butler knew it had to play physical against Kansas State, one of the most rugged teams from the Big 12. Well, so far the Bulldogs are landing more punches.
After holding top-seeded Syracuse to a season-low 25 first-half points in the regional semifinals, Butler appears intent on holding K-State to a season-low for the first half, too.
They lead 23-14 with 3 minutes left before the break.
Kansas State already has set a school-record for points in a season, and its 80.1-point average is the second-highest mark in school history. Only the 1952-53 team averaged more.
Curtis Kelly began the season as something of an unknown after transferring from UConn and showed flashes of brilliance in some games while disappearing in others.
He's the only guy who has shown up for the Wildcats.
Kelly just made a nifty drop-step layup and is 5 for 8 from the field, giving him 10 early points. Freshman forward Wally Judge is the only other player to score for Kansas State, which means the high-scoring backcourt duo of Jacob Pullen and Denis Clemente have been shut out.
Butler leads 20-14 with under 4 minutes left in the half.
Jacob Pullen needs to have a meltdown — in a good way. He's ice cold.
The star guard whose timely 3-pointers lifted the Wildcats over Xavier hasn't been able to get on track. He's missed two open shots to go with a pair of turnovers and no assists.
No points? No assists? That adds up to being a non-factor.
The Wildcats have gone more than 4 minutes without scoring, missing several gimmes close to the basket, and Butler has opened a 20-10 lead that looks a lot bigger right now for a Kansas State team that couldn't put a basketball through a hula-hoop.
Kansas State has been sloppy with the ball, but don't forget to give some credit to Butler for the Wildcats' seven turnovers. The Bulldogs are extending their defense way out on the perimeter, denying Jacob Pullen and Denis Clemente open looks.
The Wildcats were successful early inside with Curtis Kelly, but Matt Howard — playing with two fouls — and Gordon Hayward have done a nice job of closing off the lane.
The Bulldogs still lead 18-10 with 7:38 left in the first half, and the score reflects something of a victory for Butler coach Brad Stevens. He'd love to see a low-scoring game after the Wildcats scored 82 and 84 in first- and second-round victories over North Texas and BYU, then put up 101 points in their double-overtime win against Xavier.
Both teams are exceptionally deep, and both head coaches have already substituted liberally. That is especially important in the thin air of Salt Lake City, where Kansas State also had to play 10 extra minutes on Thursday night.
Butler certainly seems to be the team with more energy, taking its largest lead at 18-10 and forcing Kansas State to take a timeout.
Six guys already have put numbers in the scoring column for the Bulldogs, including six points off the bench from Shawn Vanzant and Andrew Smith. Meanwhile, Shelvin Mack and Ronald Nored are doing a great job of denying Kansas State star Jacob Pullen the ball.
He's missed his only shot and has two turnovers — after totaling four turnovers the first three rounds of the NCAA tournament.
Butler has done a terrific job of getting off to quick starts, using a 12-1 run against top-seeded Syracuse in the regional semifinals and a 10-4 spurt to open against Kansas State.
The Wildcats would love to push the tempo, and Denis Clemente is the guy who can do it. He just took it all the way to the basket, and although he missed the layup, Kansas State was in position for an easy layup.
Shelvin Mack just hit his first 3-pointer, though, and Butler still leads 13-8.
Blame it on the nerves, but both teams appear tight in the early going. Butler just committed its third turnover, and Matt Howard picked up his second foul with more than 14 minutes left in the first half.
The Wildcats also have three early turnovers to go with 2-for-8 shooting. They were plagued by foul trouble in their dramatic double-overtime win over Xavier, but so far no Kansas State player has picked up a personal foul.
There are plenty of college basketball programs looking for head coaches, and Butler top guy Brad Stevens has put together a resume that rivals just about anybody.
Since taking over for Todd Lickliter, the young head coach has gone 87-14 and now has his Bulldogs player for a spot in the Final Four for the first time. If they make it, they'll be carrying the nation's longest win streak — 23 straight games.
Lickliter recently was fired at Iowa. Perhaps the Hawkeyes want to take their chances on another Butler coach?
People might have noticed a patch on Kansas State jerseys, which mirrors a pin that coach Frank Martin wears on his suit lapel. The patch recognizes the 1-7 FA (Field Infantry) Division from the Fort Riley Military Base, which is about a 20-minute drive from campus.
The Kansas State athletic department has done a number of events with soldiers from Fort Riley over the past few years, including the football and basketball programs.
Martin took his entire team — players, coaches, staff — to Fort Riley in September 2008 to participate in a full training session, complete with the gear that soldiers must carry.
Keeps the game in perspective a little bit, even amid the pressure of the NCAA tournament.
Frank Martin is earning quite the reputation for his pregame and halftime pep talks, and before Kansas State's regional final against Butler, the fiery coach with the often-furrowed brow toned it down a bit while giving the CBS cameras a little glimpse of his locker room:
"We've talked about it for 3 years: You never know when opportunities are going to come across in your life," Martin said told his Wildcats, "but when you've earned the right, you are prepared for when they come across."
That's some deep stuff.
Maybe that's why Kansas coach Bill Self, who offered his expert insight on the pregame show, picked Kansas State to win. He should know something about it, having beaten the Wildcats three times this season.
The Final Four is just minutes away for the teams tipping off Saturday in regional finals: second-seeded Kansas State and fifth-seeded Butler from Salt Lake City, and top-seeded Kentucky and second-seeded West Virginia from Syracuse, N.Y.
A tournament that has been big on upsets has ended up with no team in the round of eight that was seeded outside of the top six. Tennessee and Michigan State, which will play Sunday, are perhaps the most unlikely teams left standing after surviving a brutal bracket in which overall No. 1 seed Kansas and second-seeded Ohio State went home early.
The other game Sunday will feature No. 1 seed Duke and third-seeded Baylor.
But first up is a battle between 'Cats and 'Dogs: Kansas State and emerging superstar Jacob Pullen against a Butler team that would love nothing more than to head back home to Indianapolis for the Final Four, rather than simply heading home for class.
The Bulldogs are playing in a regional final for the first time, while Kansas State is in the round of eight for the 12th time — but first since 1988. The Wildcats haven't advanced to the Final Four since 1964.