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A Shocker? No, just VCU ... again

PORTLAND -- Virginia Commonwealth apparently isn't ready to yield the glass slipper.

VCU was supposed to be rebuilding, seeing that it has four new starters from a team that was just the third 11-seed to reach the Final Four. Sure, the Rams entered the NCAA tournament South Regional having won 17 of 18, but this was supposed to be Wichita State's tournament. The Shockers were everyone's favorite mid-major, with those four seasoned senior starters.

"Supposed to happen" and "actually happen," well, if you've filled out a few brackets through the years, you know there's a vast distance between the two.

Running counter to conventional wisdom, it was VCU that found the reservoir of poise at the end to hit the big shots on a big stage during another furious finish, beating the Shockers 62-59.

"This is a different team with different goals and different identity," said Rams senior leader Bradford Burgess, who added to his NCAA record by making his 145th consecutive start. "We have different guys doing different things than last year's team. We wanted to make our mark on this year's tournament."

Already done, as many brackets will attest. And, yes, VCU was plenty aware of being overlooked by pundits -- again.

"We used it this year just like we used it last year," VCU coach Shaka Smart said. "We kind of put a tape together of some of the pundits making their picks. And I would say probably 95 percent of the people had Wichita State winning this game. And we play that for our guys and we let them watch."

The teams traded four 3-pointers over the final three minutes. But immediately after Toure' Murry made a trey that gave Wichita State its first lead of the second half at 59-57, old man Burgess found an opportune time to score his only points of the second half with his own 3 from the corner.

"There's no pressure," Burgess said. "It was just a wide-open shot; the ball got swung to me in the corner and I was able to knock it in."

The screws tightened and the Shockers' best player faltered. Garrett Stutz missed a go-ahead layup on the other end, and then -- after the Rams' Darius Theus hit a floater in the lane -- he ended up heaving a desperate 3, capping a poorly executed final play.

"My initial role was I was supposed to be the screener for a weak-side fake screen for a shooter," Stutz said. "I was kind of the last option at the top, when VCU read the play well."

VCU's "Havoc" defense won the evening over the Shockers' potent offense. Wichita State, held to fewer than 60 points for the first time this season, entered the game averaging 77.7 points per game while shooting 48.5 percent from the field, with both numbers ranking among the nation's top 15. The Shockers shot 38.7 from the field against the Rams, though they were much better in the second half as they worked their way back from a 13-point deficit.

But it was the Rams' ability to score in the half court that made the difference. The vaunted VCU press forced only 12 turnovers, just one more than the Shockers provoked. The Rams, instead, shot 42.4 percent from the field, including making 50 percent of their second-half shots.

"I was pleased with only 12 turnovers. Twelve's our goal against teams that don't press. So it wasn't that," Shockers coach Gregg Marshall said.

What was it? It was VCU pulling the, er, shocker. Again.

"These guys really made some huge plays down the stretch, which turned out to be the difference in the game," Smart said.