VCU head coach Shaka Smart celebrates with his players after beating Kansas to reach the Final Four in 2011. (Courtesy VCU Athletics)

ASN MADNESS MOMENTS | VCU went from First Four to Final Four in 2011

During the 31 days of March, we feature some of the greatest moments from the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament in the history of ASN's family of schools. Today: VCU, which some said did not belong in the 2011 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament were proven wrong in the sports moments judged the greatest in Rams history.

The Rams stunned No. 1-seeded Kansas 76-61 on March 27, 2011, to win the Southwest Regional final. The Rams advanced to the first Final Four in school history and, as The New York Times wrote, “continued what must be the most improbable run in the event’s history.”

VCU made the expanded field of 68 teams after losing to Old Dominion in the CAA Tournament Championship. The Rams became the third 11th seed to reach the Final Four, including then-CAA rival George Mason in 2006. But the Rams were the first team that needed to win five games to get there.

They beat Southern California in one of the new “First Four” games, then knocked off Georgetown, Purdue, Florida State and Kansas to reach the Final Four. VCU lost to Butler 70-62 in the national semifinals, but it remains an unforgettable run.

VCU’s website captured the moment:

SAN ANTONIO, Texas Where do we begin?

A team that everyone in the country doubted, once again shut everyone up with a dominating 71-61 victory over Kansas, the only top seed left in the 2011 NCAA Tournament. Yes folks, the Virginia Commonwealth University men’s basketball team is headed to the Final Four next week in Houston.

“What more can I say about this group of guys? Every time this group is doubted, they respond in an overwhelming way and today was no different,” said head coach Shaka Smart. “There was not one media outlet that picked us to win today, but those 14 guys knew that they could and that’s all that matters.”

Southwest Regional Tournament MVP Jamie Skeen led all scorers with 26 points, as well as grabbing 10 rebounds and picking up two steals. Classmate Brandon Rozzell was the only other Rams player in double figures with 12 points, but it was the defense that stole the show.

Kansas, who came in averaging over 81 points and game and led the country in field-goal percentage, was held to just 61 points and 36% from the field, including a 2-for-21 performance from beyond the arc. The 61 points was the least amount of points the Jayhawks have scored all year.

“Our defense has been what has carried us this whole tournament and that didn’t change today,” Rozzell said. “When we’re communicating and focused on the defensive end, we’re a tough team to beat.”

The win not only sends the Black & Gold to the Final Four, but also ties a school-record with the 28th victory of the season. Smart is now 55-20 over two seasons and a perfect 10-0 in postseason play.

“This is unbelievable, that’s really all I can say,” Skeen said. “These guys are my brothers and I wouldn’t want to go through this with any other group.”

Kansas would land a sucker punch to start the game with a quick 6-0 lead. However, the resolve of the Rams was on display once again as they reeled off a 31-11 run thanks to six three-pointers, three of which came from Rozzell.

VCU would finish the first half with nine three-pointers and a comfortable 41-27 advantage after holding the Jayhawks to just 27 points and 31% shooting over the first 20 minutes.

“We knew that they would push back because that’s what great teams do,” senior Joey Rodriguez said. “It was just a matter of us sticking together and staying focused on the game plan.”

The Jayhawks counterpunch came in the first seven minutes of the second half when they ran off a 17-6 spurt to close within two on an old-fashioned 3-point play by Tyshawn Taylor with 13:11 left in the game.

Free throws from Skeen and a layup from sophomore Darius Theus pushed the lead back to six and the Jayhawks would never again get within one possession with VCU hitting six of its eight free-throw attempts in the final minute of play.

“I’m just so overwhelmed right now,” senior Ed Nixon said. “Nobody believed in us except our fans and the people that surround this program. Now the whole world knows about VCU.”

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