RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.
It's March, a month when madness ensues, at least on college basketball courts. Yesterday's action in the NCAA men's tournament saw last year's victor knocked out. It also had a surprise team from last year's Final Four picking up where it left off. That would be Virginia Commonwealth University, which continued its winning ways, beating higher seeded Wichita State. NPR's Tom Goldman was at the game in Portland. We'll hear more from him in a moment. But first we go to NPR's Mike Pesca. He's in Louisville, where Iowa State University defeated the University of Connecticut. The loss ends UConn's quest for back to back championships and could be the last game for its head coach.
MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: For 40 minutes, Jim Calhoun worked the sidelines, pounding his feet in frustration, all but dragging center Andre Drummond out of the game by the scruff of his neck after a blown defensive assignment. He stared down players, pleaded with refs, gestured so emphatically that anyone in the student section could tell where Roscoe Smith was supposed to be on that last possession. But on this night there was more...
UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Chanting) ISU, ISU, ISU...
PESCA: ...than Calhoun's troops could overcome. UConn lost, but in a larger sense, this year, they were defeated. Calhoun missed games due to illness and due to suspension for his role in improper recruiting. Add to the 69-year-old's travails the fact that unless the NCAA changes its academic rules, UConn will not be eligible to play in next years tournament. So after the game the question was asked.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Jim, what'll be the process you're going to go through here to decide if you're going to come back and coach next year?
PESCA: This is a real time pause, during which Calhoun simply glared.
JIM CALHOUN: We're talking about tonight's game. We're not talking about me. So I don't think it has any relevance here, to be honest with you.
PESCA: Calhoun has said his retirement is not a given, but this year was so obviously frustrating it might've been the final straw.
CALHOUN: Tonight's game was a disappointment. This season was not a disappointment for me, because I knew, quite frankly, that this team could be very good and we just didn't reach the level. But I always felt badly that this team fought itself so much and probably could've achieved a little more.
PESCA: UConn's three championship seasons were the only times Calhoun's year didn't end on a note of disappointment. That's the life of a big time basketball coach, even one who's achieved extraordinary success, built a program, and pushed the limits for ill and good.
Mike Pesca, NPR News, Louisville, Kentucky.
TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: This is Tom Goldman in Portland, where last night VCU upset Wichita State 62-59. Or did they? It was a 12 seed beating a five, but after it was over, vanquished Wichita State head coach Gregg Marshall said about VCU's seeding – really?
GREGG MARSHALL: Forty-four teams in the country I guess are better than them. That's hard for me to imagine.
GOLDMAN: The words of a man who just lived through 40 minutes of Virginia Commonwealth's havoc style of play. Pressure defense that held Wichita State under 60 points for the first time this season. Still, the shockers rallied from a 13-point second half deficit. With a couple of minutes left in the game, there was a scintillating, tit-for-tat sequence of long range shots. First VCU...
(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Three, Troy Daniels.
GOLDMAN: Then Wichita State.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Three for Joe Ragland.
GOLDMAN: And finally...
(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)
GOLDMAN: The last three pointer, the game winner, was by VCU junior Bradford Burgess. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: Burgess is a senior.] He was a key member of last year's memorable 11th seeded team that rolled past Georgetown, Purdue and Kansas on the way to the Final Four? VCU head coach Shaka Smart thinks too many dismiss last season as a one-off miracle, even though the Rams won 28 games this season and their year-end conference tournament. As always, Smart is making the most of being undervalued.
SHAKA SMART: We kind of put a tape together of some of the pundits making their picks. And I would say probably 95 percent of the people had Wichita State winning this game.
GOLDMAN: He played it for his Rams and put a chip squarely on their shoulders.
SMART: And if you have something to prove, you're just going to play harder. You're going to be a little bit meaner. You're going to be a little tougher out there.
GOLDMAN: VCU's next opponent is Indiana tomorrow. Hoosiers consider yourselves warned. The Rams have a 12th seed, a chip and a belief that history definitely can repeat itself.
Tom Goldman, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.