If only you could go to freeze frame when the ball leaves Gordon Hayward's hand at halfcourt with .7 of a second left and Duke leading Butler 61-59. You know, preserve that sense of high drama and anticipation about all that could happen when the ball was in the air and two teams that poured their souls into the national championship game now were just waiting to see how it all was going to come out.

That was beautiful. That was the essence.

That's when storied Duke, with its venerated coach and roster of high school All-Americans, and humble Butler, with its brainy, young coach and collection of All-American competitors, all were equals sharing one of those rare moments sports gives us from time to time.

But gravity prevailed again. The ball came down, deflected off the glass, hit the front of the rim and bounced into eternity, leaving Duke to celebrate its fourth NCAA title and Butler to celebrate how hard it worked to make that moment possible.

The most amazing thing to see when it ended was the giddy excitement of coach Mike Krzyzewski, who won three previous NCAA titles and the last Olympic gold medal. He was practically pinching himself to see if it was real or imagined.

"I still can't believe we won,'' Krzyzewski said nearly an hour after accepting the trophy. "The game was so good that anybody could have won.''

Not that Duke was lucky.

"We earned it,'' he said. And he acknowledged that Butler and coach Brad Stevens earned all the recognition and admiration that came their way. Of the eight title games he had taken part in, Krzyzewski said, "This was the toughest and the best one.''

Some questioned the coaching great's decision to have Brian Zoubek intentionally miss his second foul shot instead of trying to make it a three-point game with 3.6 seconds left. That way Hayward's shot would have been for a tie, not the win. Krzyzewski said he thought it would be tough to make a halfcourt shot, adding, "What the hell, it worked.

"I mean, this was a game where things were not by the book necessarily. You had to do things instinctive because guys were fighting so hard.''

Stevens said his team "caught lightning in a bottle'' with the 25-game winning streak it took into the game and the aura it generated around a school located six miles from Lucas Oil Stadium, an oversized version of Butler's famed Hinkle Fieldhouse.

This game gave the NCAA all the evidence it needs for why it should expand to 96 teams. Stevens said a mid-major such as Siena of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference shouldn't have to win its conference tournament to get into the NCAA field after going 17-1 in conference play.

"Teams like that should not have to play perfect,'' Stevens said. "There are a lot of really good basketball teams in and out of the six power conferences.''

That's one reason Duke-Butler will resonate. The other is because it was such a great game with so many story lines and was played at such a high level, especially defensively.

"I think it will become an historic game,'' Krzyzewski said. "It's the best one I've been involved in. Just as a competitor, you feel like it was a great game . . . It will become a benchmark game, not just the way it was played, but who played in it and what comes about. It's already come about with Northern Iowa, so many good teams.

"Somebody's going to pick the top 10 for next season tomorrow. Where you gonna put Butler? Right up there, 1 or 2. Pretty good, pretty good.''

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