BURGESS TALKS A-10 AND NBA

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Great turnout last night at Home Team Grill for the A-10 celebration. It was a good time. I would recommend the Dayton Flyer wings, which nearly melted my face off. Anyway, Bradford Burgess stopped by the event to talk about his recent agreement to play with the Orlando Magic in the Orlando Summer League, as well as VCU’s move to the A-10.

NEW-LOOK RAMS UP TO THEIR OLD TRICKS

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VCU limited Wichita State to 31 percent shooting in the first half of Thursday's NCAA Tournament win over Wichita State.

PORTLAND, Ore. – Remember VCU? The darlings of March are back.

Led by charismatic 34-year-old Coach Shaka Smart, VCU scored the biggest upset of the first day of the NCAA Tournament with Thursday’s 62-59 defeat of fifth-seeded Wichita State at the Rose Garden.

A year removed from a stunning Final Four run, perhaps the most unlikely ever, VCU stole the show again. Last year doesn’t feel so long ago anymore. But while the uniforms are still black and gold and still read VCU on the front, these aren’t last year’s Rams. This team has been determined to leave its own mark. Thursday will go a long way towards that end.

Seeded 12th in the South Region, the Rams (29-6) toppled another single-digit seed, a feat they accomplished three times in 2011, but did it in their own way.

Last year’s squad featured an arsenal of 3-point bombardiers in Jamie Skeen, Ed Nixon, Joey Rodriguez and Brandon Rozzell. That team plowed through the field with offense. Thursday, as the Rams have done all year, VCU ground out an upset victory with unrelenting defense and timely shot making.

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OTHER NOTABLES/QUOTABLES

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Wichita State center Garrett Stutz will be a challenging matchup for VCU Thursday.

PORTLAND, Ore. – Wichita State has not played since it was upset by Illinois State in the Missouri Valley Tournament semifinals on March 3. Despite the 12-day layoff, the Shockers didn’t seem too worried about coming out rusty on Thursday against VCU.

“We’ve been practicing hard,” said WSU senior Garrett Stutz, who is averaging team highs of 13.5 points and 8.0 rebounds. “We ended up calling some refs Saturday. We did an inter-squad scrimmage. The coaches haven’t let up, they haven’t taken it easy on us. Although it’s been a long time between games, I would expect the team to go about their business just like they’ve been doing.”

STUTZ RISES UP
One of the most significant differences between last year’s Wichita State squad and this season’s is the improved play of 7-foot center Garrett Stutz.

Stutz has practically doubled his production of 7.0 points and 3.5 rebounds per game last year to team-bests of 13.5 points and 8.0 boards. The big reason for Stutz’s emergence is simply opportunity. Prior to this season, the Kansas City native’s minutes were limited by his foul-prone nature. Stutz averaged fewer than 15 minutes per game last season.

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BURGESS IS VCU’S MR. DEPENDABLE

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Through Feb. 24, Bradford Burgess has started 140 consecutive games.

It’s fitting that the record for which Bradford Burgess might be best known is an ode to dependability. It’s been the defining quality of his unforgettable VCU career.

First Anthony Grant, then Shaka Smart, penciled Burgess in their starting lineup because they knew he would win games. It didn’t matter who was on the floor, Burgess was always one of the best guys out there. And Burgess did win, and win, and win some more. Before the season is over, he’ll likely have won more games than any other VCU player, more than 100 in all.

Burgess will likely become just the third player in VCU history with at least 1,600 points and 700 rebounds, joining Charles Wilkins and Kendrick Warren. Burgess also ranks in the top 10 on VCU’s career lists in 3-pointers, games played, minutes, steals and free throws. With a postseason run, he could eclipse national records for consecutive (142) and total (147) starts.

“He’s the Cal Ripken of college basketball,” Smart said. “Brad’s a guy, in the three years that I’ve been here, he hasn’t always been 100 percent physically, but you never know it. He doesn’t complain. He plays through minor injuries and bruises and fatigue.”

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VIDEO OF THE DAY: BURGESS REFLECTS ON VCU CAREER

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VCU-NORTHERN IOWA RAPID REACTION

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Darius Theus scored seven of his nine points, including all three of his field goals, in the final five minutes Friday.

RICHMOND, Va. – In one of its final chances to impress the NCAA selection committee, VCU wore down a sharpshooting Northern Iowa team and grabbed a 77-68 Sears BracketBusters victory Friday night at the Verizon Wireless Arena.

Despite torrid shooting from the Panthers in the first half, VCU Coach Shaka Smart stuck to his guns defensively and waited for the Rams’ style of play to win out. At first, it looked like Smart’s gamble, which had the Rams ratcheting up their defensive aggressiveness, might prove costly. The Panthers hit 7-of-10 threes in the first half, and nine of their first 13 attempts. But UNI missed its last four from outside and the cumulative effect of 19 turnovers shifted the game back towards VCU.

With five minutes left, the Rams took over. Three days removed from a heartbreaking, buzzer-beating loss at George Mason in which they were unable to shake the Patriots late, VCU turned a 64-62 lead into a nine point win.

“We knew it was a risk to be as aggressive as we were, and they made us pay in the first half, but we thought over the course of 40 minutes out style of play would benefit us and win out and tire them out to some extent and in the second half I think it did,” Smart said.

Despite shooting 56 percent (25-of-45) for the game, Northern Iowa could only manage 24 points in the second half. Then again, it’s tough to score when you don’t have the ball.

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HERE’S THE POST WHERE I TRY TO MAKE MYSELF FEEL BETTER

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Well, that was a long ride home. I’ve had some time to let last night’s 62-61 loss at George Mason process, and here are some thoughts.

No. 1: Look, it wasn’t just that George Mason needed a Sherrod Wright 28-footer at the horn with Rob Brandenberg in his grill to win it. The Patriots needed a perfect sequence of about five things to happen to win that game. And they got them all. Three 3-pointers, a fall away baseline jumper by Vaughn Gray, a single missed VCU free throw. All of them. You tip your cap to George Mason for making those plays and you move forward.

The only play that really bothered me was the offensive rebound that led to Ryan Pearson’s 3-pointer. That one was tough. Shaka Smart acknowledged the play in his postgame press conference.

“We were probably one rebound away from winning the game,” he said.

No. 2: Freshman Briante Weber has nothing to hang his head about. This loss does not fall at his feet. The rookie made 5-of-6 free throws down the stretch – not to mention two big free throws late at Old Dominion.

No. 3: Ryan Pearson is the best player in the league right now. His 24-point, 11-rebound effort confirmed that. He, as well as Mike Morrison, a couple of veterans, really frustrated VCU sophomore bigs Juvonte Reddic (4 points, 1-of-8 FG) and D.J. Haley (2 points, 2 rebounds). Two veterans playing like vets. Hopefully, Reddic and Haley will study this game and learn from it.

No. 4: The Rams are going to have to close games better. Teams are going to make runs, but VCU lived dangerously in a number of contests before Tuesday. The good news is that the Rams, up until Tuesday, were able to pull out those close games.

No. 5: VCU is FINE. The Rams just lost to a good team on the road by one point on a 28-footer. Relax. At this point, the CAA No. 1 seed is probably out of reach, so really, it’s a matter of which team will be the two or three seed. That’s about it. The Rams were probably going to have to run the table to the CAA final to merit NCAA at-large consideration, a really tall order. Now, it’s probably not relevant.

No. 6: Big Shot Bradford Burgess is back. He hit two huge 3-pointers late in yesterday’s game, one to tie, one to give the Rams a 54-51 lead. He’s making clutch shots again. I like VCU’s chances.

757th HEAVEN FOR VCU’S TIDEWATER PRODUCTS

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Junior Darius Theus scored eight points in a critical two-minute stretch Saturday.

NORFOLK, Va. –As good as Bradford Burgess was Saturday – and he was very good – he couldn’t do it alone. So the Rams ordered in some home cooking, calling on a couple of Tidewater area products in the clutch, to earn physical, 68-64 victory over Old Dominion Saturday at the Ted Constant Convocation Center.

Portsmouth native Darius Theus spent a critical five-minute chunk of the second half on the VCU bench, hoping for a chance to make a difference. When he finally got into the game, he did not disappoint.

Theus picked up his fourth foul with 8:19 remaining. At the time, the Rams (22-5, 13-2 CAA) were clinging to a 47-42 advantage. Without its junior point guard, the lead crumbled, and when Theus returned with 2:56 left, the game was tied.

But moments later, Theus, a 28 percent 3-point shooter who had missed two earlier in the game, buried a three with two seconds left on the shot clock and 2:02 showing on the game clock to give the Rams a 57-55 lead.

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ONE ROWDY RAM

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Freshman Briante Weber has established himself as somewhat of an agitator in VCU’s brand of high-pressure defense. But he’s also been known to wreak a little havoc on the opposing fan base.

When the Rams visited the Ted Constant Center in Norfolk, Va. to play rival Old Dominion last season, Weber, a Chesapeak, Va. native and VCU signee at the time, attended the game in a bright yellow shirt and sat in the student section. It wasn’t hard to find Weber, since that game had been billed as a “White Out”.

I’ll let Bradford Burgess tell it from here:

He probably told some people [ahead of time] but I didn’t know. We go there and you just see Bri doing his normal antics, just all over the place in the yellow shirt in the white out student section.

We talk about it all the time. It’s all he says. He’s like, ‘ya’ll remember when I was down there in the student section in the yellow shirt?’ Yeah Bri, we remember.

He’s all about having fun. He was in there when we were winning and he was just bouncing around and jumping around. We could hear him when it got quiet. It was just a fun time.

The Rams won the game 59-50.

TOWSON NOTES: BURGESS FINDS HIS STROKE

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Bradford Burgess hit a career-high six 3-pointers Wednesday.

RICHMOND, Va. – Bradford Burgess used to be a regular at postgame press conferences, but he’s been noticeably absent of late. You can blame that on his once-reliable jumper, which has been slow to arrive in 2012.

But Burgess strode confidently into Wednesday’s press conference after fueling VCU’s 66-43 win over Towson with 22 points, his most since mid-December. He embraced the moment as if he was seeing an old friend.

“It feels great to be back here,” he said.

A self-assured Burgess knocked down 8-of-15 attempts from the field, including a career-high 6-of-11 from 3-point range. Those 22 points were his second-highest total of the season and came on the heels of a seven-game stretch in which he topped double figures just once.

Burgess appeared more comfortable than he had in months, as if he had found an oasis amidst this career-worst shooting stretch. In VCU’s 13 games since Christmas, Burgess averaged 9.9 points and shot .282 (37-of-131) from the field.

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