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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Underdog VCU reaches Final Four

SAN ANTONIO (AP) Move over, Butler. Virginia Commonwealth is crashing the Final Four.

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From First Four to Final Four: VCU players celebrate their upset victory over Kansas on Sunday in San Antonio. AP PHOTO

Two weeks ago, the 11th-seeded Rams so doubted they would get a NCAA tournament invite that they watched Cartoon Network and went out for burgers instead of watching the selection show. Now, all of America will be watching them in the Final Four.

The 11th-seeded Rams are heading to Houston, and final No. 1 seed Kansas is heading home after the biggest March upset in years.

VCU stunned the Jayhawks 71-61 on Sunday, becoming just the third 11th seed to make the Final Four. The Jayhawks had been the last top seed standing, but what looked like an easy path to the final weekend ended in a stunning collapse.

"Once again we felt like nobody really thought we could win going into this game," said VCU coach Shaka Smart, the budding star of the tournament. "Our guys have done a phenomenal job of putting all the doubters aside, all the people that didn't believe in us, and going out to do their job."

VCU guard Joey Rodriguez counted one of Kansas' vaunted Morris twins — Marcus or Markieff — as one of those many doubters. During a pregame captains meeting with officials, 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 widely outnumbered fans sat in an Alamodome that was otherwise colored in Kansas blue and white.

Kansas players walked slowly off the court. Several, including Markieff Morris, cried.

"Probably the best game they played ever," Markieff said. "Probably the best game ever as a school tonight. We let them. We let them beat us."

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Cat scratch fever: Wildcats guard Brandon Knight brings the ball up the floor in front of teammate Terrance Jones and the Tar Heels' Josh Henson on Sunday in Newark, N.J. Kentucky beat North Carolina 76-69 to advance to the Final Four. AP PHOTO

Smart was guided from one interview to another wearing the cut-down net around his neck. The cheers for VCU were only interrupted for guard Brandon Rozzell, who stood at midcourt as the crowd serenaded him with an impromptu "Happy Birthday."

The celebration even carried to other arenas. In Newark, N.J., where Kentucky was playing North Carolina, the crowd erupted when the public address announcer broadcast the final score from Texas.

"Anything is possible," he told the arena.

On Saturday, Smart quoted a line from "Dumb and Dumber" to explain how he felt about his team: "So you're saying we've got a chance?" A day later, he leaned on another old comedy to sum up the Rams' unlikely run.

"Ever seen the movie 'Major League?' " Skeen asked reporters. "I can't say exactly what the guy says. But they get in some situations, and there's only one thing left to do.

"Win the whole blank thing."

Wildcats advance

NEWARK , N.J. (AP) Kentucky spent 13 straight springs watching other schools play in the Final Four, a destination college basketball's winningest program considers its birthright.

At most places, that's hardly a drought.

In the Bluegrass, it's a lifetime.

Now coach John Calipari and the Wildcats are two wins away from a national title. Finally.

Brandon Knight scored 22 points and fourth-seeded Kentucky advanced to the Final Four for the first time since their 1998 national title with a 76-69 win over second-seeded North Carolina on Sunday in the East Regional final.

"We got Kentucky back," senior center Josh Harrellson said. "A lot of people doubted us. A lot of people really didn't think we'd be the team we are. We really pulled it together as a team, and we're back now."

The Wildcats (29-8) will play Connecticut in Houston on Saturday night after turning back a late surge by the Tar Heels (27-10), who erased an 11-point deficit before running out of gas.

DeAndre Liggins added 12 points for Kentucky, including a 3-pointer from the corner with 37 seconds remaining to help lift the Wildcats.



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