- Associated Press - Thursday, March 15, 2012

PORTLAND, Ore. — Shaka Smart and Co. pulled off the first major surprise of the NCAA tournament.

Yep, VCU is back again.

Bradford Burgess hit a key 3-pointer with 1:33 left and the 12th-seeded Rams held off Wichita State 62-59 on Thursday night.

Smart was one of the tournament’s biggest stars last year when he coached VCU to victories over Georgetown, Purdue, Florida State and Kansas, making the Rams just the third No. 11 seed to reach the Final Four. The run ended when they lost to Butler in Houston.

This VCU team moves on to a matchup with fourth-seeded Indiana (26-8), which advanced to Saturday’s game with a 79-66 victory over New Mexico State at the Rose Garden.

“We have different guys doing different things than last year’s team,” Burgess said. “We want to make our own mark on this year’s tournament.”

Still, there are already similarities to last year’s run. Just take a look at the last few frantic minutes of this one.

With 12 seconds left and the Rams clinging to a 62-59 lead, Smart was so animated during a timeout that he swooped down on his team at midcourt and started strategizing.

The intense huddle was eventually brushed back to near the bench by the referees, but the Rams (29-6) came out of the timeout and buckled down defensively, hurrying Wichita State center Garrett Stutz’s errant 3-point attempt before the final buzzer.

“Our guys did a good job executing our defensive plan,” Smart said of those final seconds. “They didn’t get a good look at a 3, and that’s what won it for us.”

The Rams led by as many as 13 in the second half, but Wichita State (26-6) closed to 54-53 on Stutz’s layup with 5:39 left. Troy Daniels hit a 3-pointer for the Rams, and Joe Ragland answered with his own for the Shockers.

Toure Murry made a 3 that gave Wichita State the lead, but Burgess came back with his big shot to give the Rams a 60-59 edge. Darius Theus then tacked on a runner before Stutz’s last-chance attempt was off.

“I was kind of the last option on top, and VCU read the play well,” Stutz said. “By the time I got the ball I knew there wasn’t enough time to go for a two. Couldn’t have been more than 2 or 3 seconds left.”

Said VCU guard Rob Brandenberg: “Everybody was on the same page that last (defensive) play.”

Burgess finished with 16 points, and Theus and Daniels had 10 points apiece for the Rams, who edged Drexel 59-56 in the Colonial Athletic Association Tournament final to make it to the NCAAs.

Story Continues →