By Chris Jenkins
Marquette Senior Writer
LEXINGTON, Ky. -- At least for a few days in the hoops-crazed state of Kentucky, the phrase "Big Blue" suddenly had a new meaning.
After hitting perhaps the biggest shot so far in this year's NCAA tournament to lift Marquette past Davidson on Thursday, Marquette guard Vander Blue had perhaps the best game of his career in Saturday's victory over Butler.
Blue scored 29 points in the Golden Eagles' 74-72 victory, sending them to their third straight Sweet 16. And he provided a huge spark during critical stretches of the second half.
"I left it all out there," Blue said. "I went as hard as I can go. And even when I was tired, I was still trying to make plays for our team."
With Marquette trailing 58-54, Junior Cadougan hit a layup to cut the lead to two. Then Blue took over, as Jamil Wilson stole the ball and sent it ahead to Blue for a fast-break layup to tie the game.
Blue then came up with a steal of his own on Butler's next possession, racing away for an emphatic slam dunk to give Marquette the lead with 7:07 left.
He'd be needed again late, hitting a huge 3-pointer to tie the game with 1:25 remaining. The Golden Eagles' free throws, and effective defense on one last Butler inbounds play, sent them on to the next weekend of the tournament.
"We had two close games," Blue said. "We played in a lot of those games this year. I feel like what we've done earlier this season has prepared us for what we went through this past weekend. And it's a team effort, man, everybody just giving their all. Everybody just pushing each other, 'Let's get this one more stop and the game is not over.' Multiple times today we could have (given) up and lost the game. Just something about this group."
Butler coach Brad Stevens was impressed.
"He's had 50 in two games on us," Stevens said. "Pretty unique. Not many guys have gotten 50 against Butler in two games. You know, again, he made big shots, he made the huge 3 in the corner late. It was hard for me to see the one bounce up and essentially go in, because I knew a player like that when he sees that ball go in, that's as good as two makes."
Buzz Williams praised the play of Blue, but also went out of his way to point out the contributions of Derrick Wilson.
The sophomore combined with Cadougan to help slow down Butler star Rotnei Clarke in the second half.
"I think Derrick Wilson is the reason we're still playing," Williams said. "That's just my opinion. I think the job that he's done defensively in the 29, 30 minutes that he's played since we've been at Kentucky have been phenomenal, and I think that he has changed the course of our team.
"And I think the reason why Junior has played better in those two games is Derrick has played four to six minutes more than he typical does. That gives Junior a rest."
Clarke, best known to Marquette fans for hitting that game-winning shot in Maui, is a dangerous player who only needs a crack of daylight to get off a shot after he slips past a screen. He scored 18 points in the first half of Saturday's game.
Williams acknowledged that he was "brutal" to Cadougan in the halftime locker room, dressing him down in front of the team. Williams said he did so not to make a point to Cadougan, but to the rest of the team.
"Coach chewed me out in the locker room in front of the team because he knows I've been here, I've been through it, and he knows that once he chews me out, I accept it and build off of that," Cadougan said.
The Golden Eagles got a handle on Clark in the second half, holding him to six points the rest of the way.
Now comes a trip to Washington, D.C., as Marquette goes to its third straight Sweet 16.
"That's just another Marquette game," Williams said. "We're not good enough to blow anybody out. We're just good enough to get blown out. And if we can turn it into a fight and make it ugly, then it probably trends towards it helps us the most."