By Steve Ginsburg

HOUSTON (Reuters) - Butler has gone through dry shooting spells before but this one was epic. And the timing could not have been worse.

The Bulldogs shot a horrid 19 percent, hitting just 12 of 64 shots, and lost to Connecticut in the NCAA basketball championship game 53-41 on Monday at Reliant Stadium.

Butler's top guns, Matt Howard (one for 13) and Shelvin Mack (four for 15), were unable to generate anything offensively.

"We had quite a few pretty good looks," a dejected Howard said softly. "They just weren't going in."

Despite their shooting woes, the Bulldogs held a 25-21 lead at one point before Connecticut went on a 22-3 second-half run to end any hope the tiny liberal arts school in Indianapolis had of toppling one of the nation's top basketball programs.

"Sometimes shots don't go in, and that's basketball," said Butler coach Brad Stevens. "But I don't want to say shots just didn't go in. UConn had a lot to do with that.

"The least of a coach's concern is whether or not shots go in; it's how you're acting, how you're operating, how you're getting to the point where your shot is taken.

"Then you trust that the work you've put in, the preparation you've put in, will help you make that shot. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn't."

Howard and Mack received little help from their team mates.

Center Andrew Smith hit two of nine shots, Shawn Vanzant two of 10, and Chase Stigall three of 11.

"Me, in particular, I let my team down," said Vanzant. "I played terrible. That hurts."

Senior guard Zach Hahn played a key role in Butler's semi-final victory over Virginia Commonwealth but was a non-factor against Connecticut, missing his only two shots.

"When you play a good team like that and you're on a national spotlight, you can't always wait for the other team to make mistakes," he said.

"Sometimes they're a good team and they're playing better than you and that's the way it went tonight."

Smith said it was "awful" watching Howard struggle.

The senior forward hit a buzzer-beating shot in the first round of the tournament to beat Old Dominion and nailed a foul shot with less than a second left to topple Southeast Region top seed Pittsburgh in the next round.

(Editing by Peter Rutherford)