Rozzell, VCU ready for next step
Senior guard ready to run with game plan in Final Four
HOUSTON -- When the clock struck zero and Virginia Commonwealth’s 71-61 victory against Kansas, the last top seed standing, was complete, senior guard Brandon Rozzell took a moment to enjoy the fact that VCU was headed to the Final Four.
It was something no one expected, but sometimes, sports is about surprises, and the Rams certainly shocked the world with their historic win.
“I was really humble and speechless to be honest,” Rozzell said. “Particularly for us seniors, we have worked so hard over the last four years, and to accomplish something no other team in school history has ever done is special.”
There are signs all around Reliant Stadium that read 'The Road Ends Here,' and for three teams it will end without a championship. Rozzell, who scored 12 points against Kansas and is averaging 11.8 points per game on the season, isn’t ready to see the dream end in disappointment.
VCU, an 11th seeed, takes on eighth-seeded Butler in the first national semifinal Saturday night, with the winner meeting Kentucky or Connecticut for the national championship on Monday night.
“We are not satisfied,” Rozzell said. “We want to take this run as far as possible, and it’s a matter of us all being on the same page and locked in no matter what goes on around us. At this time of the year, if you can’t find focus and motivation, there is something wrong with you.”
Rozzell has certainly done his part to make this run possible. One of four seniors on the team, Rozzell has drilled 78 treys on the season, the most on the team, and has become the type of role player a team needs to have success at the highest level.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: No. 11 Virginia Commonwealth beat No. 11 Southern California 59-46; No. 6 Georgetown 74-56; No. 3 Purdue 94-76; No. 10 Florida State 72-71, OT; No. 1 Kansas 71-61.
STAR: Joey Rodriguez is a true college point guard, and his numbers in the NCAA tournament bear that out. The 5-foot-10 Rodriguez is averaging 10.1 points in the tournament, but his impressive numbers are 38 assists and 10 turnovers in that span. In the Rams' win over Purdue, he had 12 points, 11 assists and no turnovers. He is comfortable directing the offense in the halfcourt, but he also does a good job of getting the ball to the right man on the break.
COACH: Shaka Smart burst onto the national scene with the Rams' Final Four run. In his second season as a head coach, the 33-year-old Smart already has become a candidate for every Division I opening, and his season isn't even over yet. He has solid credentials as an assistant having worked under Billy Donovan at Florida and Oliver Purnell at Clemson. He won 27 games in his first season, and the Rams won the CBI.
KEY POINT: The Rams came into the tournament with a chip on their shoulder after so many said they didn't deserve to be in the field, even one expanded by three teams. VCU has already won five games, something that would get a team to the title game in past years. What's been most impressive is that only one win has been by less than 10 points, and that was an overtime victory against Florida State.
Not bad for a player who was expected to redshirt as a freshman. He ended up playing and has never looked back.
“I know it’s my role to come off the bench and give us energy on both ends of the court,” Rozzell said. “If I need to score, I’ll do that. If I need to find my teammates inside, I’ll do that. It’s a matter of doing whatever it takes to win.”
It’s not a surprise that Rozzell has taken his game up a couple of notches. People should have seen it coming when he torched St. Louis for 27 points in the championship game of the CBI tournament last March. He nailed four 3-pointers in the win and that success has carried over to this season.
But it wasn’t scoring that Rozzell was most focused on as he went into the last offseason.
“As a player, you always want to improve on every area of your game, but my main focus was strength and agility,” Rozzell said. “We have the best strength coach in the country in Daniel Roose and he does an unbelievable job of getting us ready for the season.”
Rozzell said he has also become a better defensive player. He had 14 steals as a freshman, 32 as a sophomore and 48 a year ago. He has 43 steals this season.
“I’ve been focused more on playing good defense, especially during the tournament run,” Rozzell said. “Early on, we were struggling defensively if we weren’t hitting shots, but I feel like we have all done a great job of getting locked in on defense no matter what happens offensively.”
No doubt about it. The Rams have held opponents to less than 70 points three times during this remarkable run to Houston. The most points allowed by VCU was 76 in a 94-76 drubbing of Purdue in the round of 32 at the United Center in Chicago.
No matter what happens this weekend at Reliant Stadium, Rozzell is always going to remember the magic of this 2010-11 campaign.
But there is no time to reflect on the memories now. He and his teammates have a basketball game to play -- the biggest of their lives -- and they believe they can get the job done.
“It’s been incredible for all of this to happen during my senior year,” Rozzell said. “The guys on this team are my brothers and best friends and we don’t want this ride to end. We know this run is happening because of how we have been able to defend and we have been able to focus on the game plan our coaches have given us.”