VCU (26-11) will play in a Southwest Regional semifinal Friday in San Antonio against Notre Dame or Florida State, teams that played here late Sunday.
The Rams knocked out Southern California in the first round in Dayton on Wednesday and took a charter flight to Chicago, where they eliminated Georgetown on Friday.
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For anyone keeping score, VCU has eliminated teams from the Pacific-10, Big East and Big Ten conferences, none by slim margins. Not bad for a school from the Colonial Athletic Association. In the final minute, VCU fans chanted C-A-A as a shout-out for the league.
“We’re not satisfied now,” VCU point guard Joey Rodriguez said. “We want to keep it going.”
VCU is a tough matchup “for anybody,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said Friday as he watched the Rams take down Georgetown 74-56.
This was true for Purdue (26-8) even though the Boilermakers had an All-American in 6-10 senior JaJuan Johnson and a 2,000-point scorer in senior guard E’Twaun Moore. The two led Purdue to the Sweet 16 in 2010 and 2009. Johnson scored 25 points to go with 14 rebounds, and Moore scored 10 on 5-for-15 shooting.
The Rams are winning with players who until last week were unknown nationally. Rodriguez, listed at 5-10 (perhaps generously), has a motor that never stops.
The Merritt Island, Fla., native left the team two years ago, homesick and upsetover the departure of former coach Anthony Grant, who had left for Alabama.
A few months later, Rodriguez returned and is now the school’s all-time leader in games played with 139.
He was one of six players in double figures for VCU. Bradford Burgess led with 23. Rodriguez scored 12 to go with 11 assists and no turnovers. VCU had four; Purdue committed seven.
“Joey Rodriguez was the difference in the game,” Painter said.
VCU has built its success this season with three-pointers, evident against Georgetown when the Rams shot 48%. Yet VCU showed against Purdue that it can play inside-out. Whether D.J. Haley was dunking on Johnson or Rodriguez was shooting an NBA three-pointer, the Rams showed no fear. They shot repeated layups with ease.
“We knew Johnson wanted to play pretty much the whole game,” VCU coach Shaka Smart said. “He doesn’t commit a lot of fouls. We wanted to go at him inside. We wanted to see if he would foul or let us shoot layups.
“Then it becomes a snowball effect. Once you get some in there, you feel like you can keep getting them.”
In the last few years, VCU has produced two NBA first-round draft picks: Larry Sanders last year and Eric Maynor in 2009.
“We gave our team a motto: Our time. Right now,” Smart said. “The purpose was for older players to understand Maynor is in the NBA. Sanders is in the NBA. ‘This is your team. It’s now or never.’ “