VCU withstands Kansas run to keep own run going

by | CBSSports.com
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SAN ANTONIO -- Everyone in the building knew it was coming. More importantly, Virginia Commonwealth knew it was coming.

The patented Kansas run.

Down by 14 to start the second half, Kansas came out with a bang. The Jayhawks went on a 17-3 run after an opening basket by VCU's D.J. Haley, cutting the deficit to two. A technical foul on head coach Shaka Smart seemed like it would turn the tide in Kansas' favor. The pressure was on the Rams to respond.

Respond they did.

Jamie Skeen was fouled while shooting a 3-pointer. After Skeen knocked down two foul shots, Brandon Rozzell stole the ball at the other end and Darius Theus drove in for a layup. Two free throws by Marcus Morris stopped the bleeding, but back-to-back jumpers by Toby Veal and Jamie Skeen made it a 9-2 run.

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All of a sudden, VCU was back up by nine with 10:29 left. The Rams grabbed the momentum back and took the air out of the Jayhawks' sails.

"I said 'Forget about the refs. Forget Kansas. This is all about us. And we've got to do what we've got to do,'" Smart said. "And we did."

Kansas wouldn't get closer than five points the rest of the game, as VCU advanced to the Final Four with a 71-61 win.

"We knew a run was coming," VCU guard Joey Rodriguez said. "Our assistant pulled me to the side and told me Kansas State had a 15-point halftime lead on them one time and they came back and made a big run. But we huddled up, rallied around coach and did what we've been doing the whole tournament. We showed a lot of resolve and belief in each other."

VCU took Kansas' punches and never fell. It did that at the beginning of the game, when the Jayhawks jumped out to a 6-0 lead that felt more like 14-0 because of their dominance at both ends.

The Rams did it again in the second half, constantly making big shots to keep Kansas at bay.

"Two points becomes seven, two becomes six," Kansas coach Bill Self said. "We kept saying the pressure would shift to them with the lead, if we can keep it within distance, and they did a great job keeping us at the four, six, seven-point range."

Five unanswered points from Kansas with just over five minutes remaining cut the Rams' lead to five, but once again, VCU responded.

Joey Rodriguez knocked down a 3-pointer and Bradford Burgess did the same a minute later, ballooning the lead to nine and putting the nail in Kansas' coffin.

"The lead was slipping and I was a little nervous," forward Jamie Skeen said. "But I knew if we executed and play defense, we would be fine."

The 10-point final margin was the fourth double-digit win for VCU in the NCAA tournament, but this one was different. Against Purdue and Georgetown, VCU pulled away when it had the lead.

Not surprisingly, Kansas kept coming at VCU. And VCU kept fighting back.

"They came back at us and made a run," Smart said. "But we kept our composure and never gave up the lead."

Most onlookers expected VCU to fade at some point during the second half. The Rams couldn't possibly keep up their 3-point shooting or continue to overcome a severe disparity on the glass, right?

Down the stretch, though, it was the mid-major team from the CAA with a second-year head coach that made the big shots -- not the veteran Kansas bunch with at least three future first-round picks.

"The momentum was shifting in our direction," Kansas guard Tyrel Reed said. "But we couldn't get over the hump. VCU kept making plays."

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