The final two pieces of the Final Four puzzle fell into place Sunday as the VCU Rams pulled off a stunning upset of Kansas, eliminating the last of the #1 seeds and Kentucky vanquished North Carolina, sending the Wildcats to their first Final Four since 1998.
VCU 71 Kansas 61 - Criticized by many as being unworthy of inclusion into the NCAA field, the VCU Rams pounded the Kansas Jayhawks from the opening tip to the final buzzer, sending the last of the #1 seeds packing.
Seeded #11 after defeating USC in a play-in game, the Rams, representing the Colonial Athletic Conference, won their 5th straight tournament game, completing a sweep of five of the six "power" conferences. Virginia Commonwealth has beaten a team from the PAC-10 (USC), Big East (Georgetown), Big Ten (Purdue), SEC (Florida) and now, the Big 12 (Kansas). The only conference unscathed by the horn of the Rams is the ACC, and they were eliminated in the West regional when Kentucky knocked out North Carolina.
Led by Jamie Skeen's game high 26 points and 10 rebounds, the Rams opened up a double-digit lead early on the Jayhawks and never looked back. Kansas drew to within four points in the second half, but were turned away repeatedly by VCU's deadeye shooting and tenacious defense. VCU hit 12 of 25 3-pointers, holding Kansas to just 2-for-21 beyond the arc and 36% (22 of 62) overall.
It is VCU's first-ever Final Four appearance, and fittingly, they get to play another small conference team, the Butler Bulldogs, who emerged as the #8 seed from the Southwest region.
Kentucky 76 North Carolina 69 - The Wildcats led nearly the entire game and at one point in the second half were up by 11 points, but a resolute North Carolina squad brought the game to a tie in the closing minutes.
Brandon Knight made a three-pointer and hit three clutch free throws to ice the game. Sandwiched in between Knight's scores was another trey by DeAndre Liggins. North Carolina could not get the ball in the bucket in the final minute, sending the Wildcats on to face the Connecticut Huskies on Saturday, April 2nd in a semi-final match-up.
Knight was the game's high scorer with 22 points, one better than Carolina's Tyler Zeller. Knight also handled six rebounds and four assists, and was 5-for-11 from 3-point range. The Wildcats hit 12 of 22 three-point jacks, while the Tar Heels were only able to can 3 of 18 from beyond the arc. All five Kentucky starters finished in double figures.