San Antonio, TX (Sports Network) – The magical ride continues for VCU.
Jamie Skeen poured in 26 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, as the Rams took down top-seeded Kansas, 71-61, to move into the Final Four for the first time in school history.
VCU looked and played like the better team Sunday, using a three-point barrage and effective defense to build a double-digit lead in the first half. The Rams (28-11) held on and made big shots down the stretch to pull off the upset and win the Southwest Region.
They will play Butler, last year’s runner-up, in the national semifinals on April 2.
Their run is reminiscent of George Mason’s during the 2006 tourney. Like VCU, the Patriots were seeded 11th and reached the Final Four. Like VCU, they defeated their region’s top seed along the way. The schools even belong to the same conference — the Colonial Athletic Association.
The 2006 tourney was also the last time there were no No. 1 seeds in the Final Four.
But there is a primary difference between the two runs — VCU had to win an extra game to get there. The Rams beat USC in a First Four matchup, and defeated Georgetown, Purdue, and Florida State before beating Kansas.
Four of their victories have come by double digits, an amazing feat considering VCU’s longshot status. The Rams’ only close game of the tourney was their 72-71 overtime win against the Seminoles in the Sweet 16.
Sunday’s contest never came down to a final shot, though, as VCU used a dominating first half to put the Jayhawks (35-3) on their heels. Marcus Morris finished with 20 points and 16 rebounds, while twin brother Markieff had 13 and 12 for Kansas, which had an 11-game win streak broken.
The Jayhawks scored the game’s first six points and were still up after Marcus Morris sank a layup about six minutes in.
But at the other end, Skeen connected on a three-pointer to start an 11-0 run that he ended with another three for a 20-10 advantage. The Rams made shot after shot from beyond the arc, increasing their lead and making it clear that their shooting success wasn’t short-lived.
Brandon Rozzell drilled one from the left wing for a 31-17 VCU lead. He made two more in the following minutes to help the Rams gain a 39-21 advantage with 3:53 left in the half.
While VCU was having great success on the offensive end, it also stifled the Jayhawks’ offense. The Rams packed bodies into the lane to help keep the Morris twins in check. While the Morrises scored, they didn’t dominate and were often forced into bad shots. Markieff turned the ball over six times in the first half.
The strategy also forced the Morrises’ teammates to make shots, and they didn’t hit many. Aside from the twins, Kansas went 2-for-13 from the floor in the first half.
VCU, on the other hand, made nine three-pointers in the opening period and rolled into the break with a 41-27 lead.
Kansas, which was trying to reach the Final Four for the first time since 2008, when it won the national title, got back into the game early in the second half.
Tyshawn Taylor’s layup capped a 12-0 run to cut the Jayhawks’ deficit to 43-39. Taylor, who didn’t score in the first half, netted six during the run.
He added a three-point play a few possessions later to bring Kansas within two, and the Big 12 champions had a chance to pull even after Markieff Morris stole the ball.
But he turned it back over to VCU, starting a critical series of possessions. Skeen made 2-of-3 free throws before a Marcus Morris turnover resulted in Darius Theus driving for a bucket and a 50-44 lead.
By the time Skeen drilled a three with 10:29 to go, the Rams’ lead was up to 55-46.
VCU continued to lead down the stretch, and every time Kansas threatened to get close, the Rams scored a timely bucket. They got a few from Bradford Burgess, whose three stretched VCU’s lead to nine with under four minutes left.
His layup with two minutes to go, off a quick feed from Joey Rodriguez, made it a 65-57 game.
Markieff Morris followed with a layup, but Kansas couldn’t cut into VCU’s lead, and the Rams secured the win with free throws in the final minute.
The Jayhawks, meanwhile, didn’t take advantage of 28 attempts from the line, making only 15.
Back in 2006, George Mason’s run to the Final Four was a singular event that morphed into a modern standard for NCAA tourney underdogs. The Patriots came out of nowhere to reach the Final Four, and in following tourneys the question was, “Who will be this year’s George Mason?”
After Sunday, it might be time to ask who will be the next VCU.
Updated 2011 Final Four bracket and TV schedule (all times ET):
Final Four, Houston
No. 11 VCU vs. No. 8 Butler, 6:09 p.m. on CBS
No. 4 Kentucky vs. No. 3 UConn, 8:49 p.m. on CBS
National Championship, 9 p.m. on CBS