SAN ANTONIO — Move over, Butler. Virginia Commonwealth is crashing the Final Four.
The 11th-seeded Rams, who didn’t even bother to watch the NCAA tournament selection show, are heading to Houston, and final No. 1 seed Kansas is heading home after a spectacular collapse.
Jamie Skeen scored 26 points as the Rams delivered the biggest upset of the NCAA tournament, shocking the Jayhawks 71-61 on Sunday to become just the third 11th seed to ever make the Final Four.
So doubtful were the Rams of even making the tournament that they watched the Cartoon Network and went out for fast food instead of watching the reveal of the tournament field two weeks ago. Now, they’re Houston-bound after an incredible takedown of the last No. 1 seed.
“Those people [the doubters] don’t matter,” VCU coach Shaka Smart said. “The only people that matter is the 14 guys on our team, and they never stopped believing.”
One of those doubters was one of Kansas’ vaunted Morris twins — Marcus or Markieff.
During a captains meeting with officials before tipoff, VCU guard Joey Rodriguez said one of the brothers offered him some parting words: “The run ends here.”
“We’ll see,” Rodriguez shot back.
The Jayhawks saw all right.
VCU players, hoisting their Southwest Regional champion trophy, poured into the temporary bleachers where VCU’s outnumbered fans sat in an Alamodome that was otherwise colored in Kansas blue and white.
As the final seconds ticked down, Skeen heaved the ball from the free throw line and into the stands behind the opposite backboard. His teammates on the bench, who had spent the final minutes with locked arms to hold each other back, finally spilled out onto the court.
Kansas players walked slowly off the court. Several, including Markieff Morris, cried.
“We got beat by a team that was definitely better today,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “They were faster. They were good.”
It’s George Mason all over again, and VCU had an even tougher Final Four path than their tiny conference brethren in 2006.
The Rams needed five wins to go from First Four to Final Four. Along the way, they toppled the Pac-10’s Southern California, the Big East’s Georgetown, the Big Ten’s Purdue, the ACC’s Florida State and now the Big 12’s Kansas.
They’ll pick on someone their own size next: Butler.
The Jayhawks? All they did was bully smaller teams to get this far. Kansas never apologized for coasting through a favorable bracket that served up schools seeded 16th (Boston University), ninth (Illinois) and 12th (Richmond).
None of those games tested the Jayhawks, who had been ranked No. 1 this season and had won 11 in row. Then VCU came out and showed it wasn’t just another pushover.
The Jayhawks spent the first half not knowing what hit them.
Kansas (36-3) hadn’t trailed by more than two points the entire tournament. With five minutes left in the first half, the Jayhawks trailed by 17.
Marcus Morris had 20 points and 16 rebounds, and his brother had 13 and 12. They played in disbelief as VCU, which ousted Florida State on 3-pointers on Friday night, used the long ball to bury the Jayhawks early this time.
The Rams hit 9 of their 12 3-pointers in the first half. Kansas trailed 41-27 at halftime and closed the lead to 46-44 with 13:11 left, but a 10-2 VCU run put the Jayhawks right back where they started.
VCU coach Shaka Smart, the 33-year-old whose enigmatic personality has made him a breakout star this tournament, was so animated shuffling in front of his bench that officials shooed him back. Another official later served Smart his first technical all season.
VCU (28-11) is the third 11th seed to ever crack the Final Four. The last was George Mason in 2006, when that Colonial Athletic Association school stunned Connecticut in its regional final. LSU made it in 1986.
That upset guaranteed a Final Four without a No. 1 seed.
Ohio State, Pittsburgh and Duke didn’t even last to the regional finals. Two traditional basketball powers, Arizona and Kentucky, and defending runner-up Butler took care of that.
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