VCU hoping to find winning formula again in NCAA Tournament

Mar 16, 2016 - 6:16 PM RICHMOND, Va. (AP) VCU is looking to find that NCAA Tournament magic again.

The Rams have been to every tournament since their improbable run from the First Four to the Final Four in 2011, and while they've been close in almost every game, their 2-4 record irks first-year coach Will Wade.

''Winning is important. That's why we do the thing, right?'' Wade said.

Wade was an assistant on the 2011 team to went to the Final Four, beating five Power Five conference teams along the way. But since then the Rams have come up short more often than not and have lost their last three NCAA Tournament games.

A No. 10 seed, they will face Oregon State in their first game Friday in Oklahoma City.

Wade spent the last two seasons cutting his teeth as a head coach at Chattanooga, and returned when Shaka Smart left last year for Texas. Wade considers VCU's six-year streak of tournament berths a bonus, but also notes that senior shooting guard Melvin Johnson is the only Rams player to have been part of winning a tournament game.

That came in 2013, a rout of Akron before the Rams were blown out by Michigan.

''We gotta get back to winning,'' Wade said this week. ''We haven't won one in a couple of years. Mel's the only one that won one when we clubbed Akron a couple years ago. We need to get back to winning. It's a good feeling when you win one of them things now. A real good feeling, so we need to get back to that.''

The Rams are one of just eight schools to be in the field for the sixth year in a row, but Wade said just being there doesn't make them stand out as much as sticking around for a few games would.

''If you can really own your league in the regular season, that's a sign of a really good program,'' he said, noting that a lot of tournament games, including VCU's matchup with Oregon State, pair evenly matched teams.

''If you can win those games, I think that's what separates your program,'' he said.

VCU has been in the Atlantic 10 for four seasons, and has played in the championship game all four years. The Rams notched their only tournament championship last season when they won four games in four days.

Getting an at-large bid this year was a relief, Wade said. Now he and his players want more.

''I've been twice and haven't gotten past the first round,'' junior guard JeQuan Lewis, the team's third-leading scorer, said, speaking of overtime losses to Stephen F. Austin in 2014 and Ohio State last year. ''Hopefully, we can change that, not just for us but for our two seniors. Just make it one to remember.''

The Rams are coming off an 87-74 loss to Saint Joseph's in the A-10 championship that wasn't as close as the final score suggests. The Hawks shot almost 65 percent and led by double figures for most of the game. Saint Joseph's scored 54 points in the paint, many coming on open layups, but Wade isn't concerned that the game exposed anything about the Rams defensively that Oregon State and other teams will be able to exploit.

''We've just got to play better,'' he said. ''We were just tired, a step slow. There are no real adjustments. We had the right idea, we just didn't play well. We guarded the other two (teams) really well. ... If you look at the last six or seven games, that's the only time it's let us down, so we've got to get back and do a little bit better.''

And if they do, he hopes they'll get back to winning on the game's biggest stage.


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