SAN ANTONIO ——As VCU players reviewed tape of their mid-February loss to George Mason, forward Jamie Skeen stood up and told coach Shaka Smart to hit the pause button.
The room was silent. The 6-foot-9, 240-pound Skeen is the Rams' most imposing presence, a rugged post presence and former football player who rarely speaks to the group.
But Skeen was angry, and not just because Mason had embarrassed VCU by 20 points on the Rams' home court. Skeen was most troubled that when Patriots guard Isaiah Tate had a breakaway, VCU's Bradford Burgess didn't attempt to chase him down and challenge the layup.
"You're slacking," Skeen said to Burgess.
Burgess didn't react outwardly. Rather, he vowed privately never to slack again.
During the five-plus weeks since, Burgess has elevated not only himself but also the Rams to unimaginable heights.
VCU (27-11) has advanced to its first NCAA tournament Elite Eight and Sunday at the Alamodome faces top-seeded Kansas (35-2) in the Southwest Regional championship game.
The winner heads to the Final Four in Houston.
"Coaches aren't supposed to play favorites, but I love him," Smart said of Burgess. "I wouldn't trade him for anyone in the country."
Little wonder. A junior from Richmond's Benedictine High, Burgess scored a game-high 26 points and made the winning layup Friday as the Rams defeated Florida State 72-71 in an overtime semifinal.
Burgess also made 6-of-7 shots from beyond the 3-point arc. In the last three games, tournament victories over Georgetown, Purdue and FSU, Burgess is 11-of-15 from deep and averaging 20.3 points and 6.0 rebounds.
"He's certainly on a roll," Kansas coach Bill Self said. "He's a tough matchup."
"When he has big nights … it really fuels our team," Smart said. "He's so unselfish, sometimes it's to a fault. So we actually have a goal with him: We want to get him 12 or more shots in any game. And when he comes up short of that goal, it's not good for us."
Burgess became accustomed to deferring in high school, where he played with North Carolina signee and current Toronto Raptor Ed Davis. But at 6-foot-6, Burgess brings a versatility that makes him VCU's most-skilled player.
So deference is not a viable option.
"I just try to go out there and make the right play and try to find the open man," Burgess said. "And sometimes I guess I don't look for my shot enough. … But I guess that's just my nature."
Burgess recalls well Skeen calling him out. He described Tate's run-out and how he, Burgess, lowered his head and gave up on the play.
"It motivated me because he was exactly right," Burgess said of Skeen's scolding. "I had been losing focus … especially on the defensive end. I just took that to heart and wanted to do the best I could do on the defensive end and be more aggressive on the offensive end."
Burgess averages 14.4 points and 6.2 rebounds and is VCU's best 3-point shooter at 42.3 percent. He leads the team in minutes played and is active in the Rams' full-court press — he had three of their 12 steals Friday.
"He's the best player in the country who's not an all-conference player," Smart said.
Burgess did not make any of the three All-CAA teams, an exclusion he considers a slight.
"That bothered me a lot," Burgess said. "I thought I had a pretty good season."
He's had an even better postseason. He had 16 points, 13 rebounds and three assists in VCU's CAA semifinal victory over George Mason, 19 points and eight boards the next night in a championship loss to Old Dominion.
"He's been doing it since his freshman year," teammate Brandon Rozzell said. "The nation is just starting to notice it. He has the nickname 'Big Shot Brad.' He's humble, he's unselfish. I think he's a pro. He's right up there with Larry Sanders and Eric Maynor in my book."
Sanders and Maynor are former Rams playing in the NBA, Sanders for the Milwaukee Bucks, Maynor for the Oklahoma City Thunder.
"The scary thing is, I think the best is yet to come for Brad," Smart said. "He can be just increasingly better and better."