Kentucky end Wichita State's run at perfection

DAVE SKRETTA
Last updated 13:58 24/03/2014
Julius Randle
Getty Images
SWEET VICTORY: Kentucky's Julius Randle celebrates after Fred VanVleet's three at the buzzer missed, sending the Wildcats to the Sweet 16.

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John Calipari stood frozen on the Kentucky sideline. Every player on the Wichita State bench held his breath. Everything seemed to stop inside the Scottrade Center as Fred VanVleet let loose with a 3-pointer that could have kept the Shockers perfect.

When it bounced harmlessly off the rim, everything was set in motion once again.

Calipari spontaneously leaped into the air, bad hip and all, as the eighth-seeded Wildcats poured off their bench to celebrate their 78-76 victory over the Midwest Region's top seed.

The boys from Wichita State slumped to their seats, their faces buried in their jerseys.

"I've been doing this so long. I've been in wars," Calipari said later. "You all understand this was an Elite Eight game. The winner of this should have gone to the Final Four."

It certainly had that kind of drama.

Andrew Harrison had 20 points, Aaron Harrison had 19 and Julius Randle contributed 13 points and 10 rebounds for the Wildcats (26-10), who advanced to play bitter rival Louisville on Friday (local time) in Indianapolis, at long last looking like the preseason No. 1 team in the country.

Cleanthony Early scored 31 points and Ron Baker had 20 for the Shockers (35-1), who hadn't lost since last year's Final Four while taking an entire city - and state - on quite a ride.

"You're going to go through some humps in your life, kind of like this one. It's tough to see us go out like this," Baker said. "At the end of the day, someone's got to go home."

The showdown on Sunday (local time) matched the bluest of the blue-bloods, the most successful program in Division I history with eight national titles, against a gritty bunch upstarts from Wichita State that was trying to become the first team to finish off a perfect season since Indiana in 1976.

The game went back and forth the entire way, Kentucky finally taking a 73-71 lead when James Young knocked down a 3-pointer with less than 2 minutes to go. Early answered with a basket for Wichita State, and Andrew Harrison made two free throws for Kentucky. Baker banked in a 3 for the Shockers, and Randle made two more foul shots for the Wildcats.

"Both teams were making plays," Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall said later, his voice sounding tired. "Back and forth, back and forth."

Early's two free throws with 9.8 seconds left got the Shockers within 77-76, and they got their chance to add another chapter to their miraculous story when Andrew Harrison made the second of two free throws and Early pulled down the rebound.

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VanVleet raced up court and called timeout with 3.2 seconds left.

Marshall drew up a play that had Tekele Cotton inbounding the ball to VanVleet, and after a couple dribbles he took a shot from the top of the key. But it was wide the entire way, clanking off the rim and sending the Wildcats pouring onto the court to celebrate.

"We just felt so good beating a great team," said Andrew Harrison, who considered sitting the game out after hurting his elbow in a second-round win over Kansas State. "It shows how much work we've put in, how much we're getting better."

Kentucky was successful early using its superior size, not only in the paint but also on the perimeter, where the 6-foot-6 Harrison twins dwarfed the 5-11 VanVleet. But after the Wildcats took a 19-15 lead midway through the half, Wichita State ramped up its trademark defence, forcing a series of turnovers and getting right back in the game.

VanVleet was the catalyst. On one sequence late in the half, he stripped Aaron Harrison and hit Early in transition, and he was fouled slamming over 7-foot Willie Cauley-Stein. Early made the free throw as the Shockers built a 37-31 lead at the half.

"I just feel like I'm always there when my team needs me," said Early, who was the breakout star of the Shockers' Final Four run a year ago. "We feed off each other in positive ways."

Early hit another 3-pointer right out of the locker room to match the Shockers' biggest lead at 40-31. But VanVleet picked up his third foul moments later, and Kentucky took advantage of the Shockers missing their floor general by gradually pulling ahead.

"I would have liked to have been a little more aggressive," VanVleet said. "We had to switch some matchups at the end because of my foul trouble. It's hard to play like that."

The game remained a back-and-forth prizefight the rest of the way, neither team leading by more than five, each answering the other with clutch 3-pointers and pressure-filled free throws.

It only made sense that the game would come down to the final possession.

"I feel for their team and I feel for their coach," Calipari said. "I'm happy we won. I'm happy for our guys. And I'm disappointed, because they had a heck of a run."

STANFORD KNOCKS OFF KANSAS

Kansas knows all about Stanford now.

The Cardinal couldn't deny a slight at a news conference a day earlier fueled them just a bit before pulling their second - and much bigger - upset of the NCAA tournament.

Kansas freshmen Andrew Wiggins and Wayne Selden Jr ducked their heads and giggled Saturday when asked about Chasson Randle, Stanford's leading scorer.

"We definitely saw that video," Randle said Sunday after the No 10 seed Cardinal beat the second-seeded Jayhawks 60-57 to advance to the Sweet 16 in the South Regional.

"Coach told me not to talk about it but I definitely took it as a challenge. It was a little big extra motivation."

Enough for the Cardinal to make the Jayhawks the second No 2 seed to be knocked out of this tournament in the third round and enough for them to reach the round of 16 for the first time since 2008.

Wiggins was held to four points on 1-for-6 shooting in what could have been his final college game. He accepted his share of the responsibility for the loss.

"I let a lot of people down," Wiggins said. "If I would have played better, we wouldn't be in this situation, you know? I blame myself for this."

Dwight Powell had 15 points and seven rebounds despite playing with four fouls much of the second half and Randle added 13 points, six steals and four assists for the Cardinal (23-12), who were making their first NCAA appearance since 2008.

"To beat a team like this, a storied program with great coaching, great players, always feels amazing," Powell said. "So as of right now we're still in the race and we're still playing in March, and it feels great."

Stanford beat No 7 seed New Mexico on Friday (local time) and will have a higher seed for the first time when it faces 11th-seeded Dayton in the regional semifinal in Memphis, Tennessee. The Flyers beat No 3 Syracuse 55-53.

The 6-foot-8 Wiggins, a likely NBA lottery pick if he decides to leave school, was saddled with four turnovers for Kansas (25-10). Wiggins had averaged 28 points the previous four games but the Jayhawks were missing 7-foot freshman Joel Embiid who was sidelined by a stress fracture in his back.

Coach Bill Self thought Stanford's height up front bothered Wiggins, but added, "I think he had an off-game, too. Give them credit for that, we put him in position to make some plays."

Josh Huestis, who had the primary responsibility for guarding Wiggins, played 39 minutes and had six points, eight rebounds and two blocks.

"That was Josh's assignment and he took it to heart," Dawkins said. "He had help. We just tried to make it as difficult as we could for him to score."

Self said the game seemed like "a struggle from the opening tip."

Everything didn't go right for Stanford, either. The Cardinal were 0 for 9 from 3-point range.

"We can make 3s but that's not what we rely on," Dawkins said. "I didn't even notice it because that's not what we've been."

Tarik Black had 18 points and six rebounds for the Jayhawks, but he fouled out with 5:25 to go. Conner Frankamp had 12 points on four 3-pointers, the last two in the final 23 seconds to make it close after Stanford had pulled ahead by seven.

Stanford was 9 for 12 at the free throw line over the final 2:04 and needed all those points. Frankamp's second 3-pointer narrowed the gap to 59-57 with 14.9 seconds left.

Anthony Brown hit one of two free throws with 12.9 seconds to go and Frankamp banged a third 3-point attempt off the glass near the buzzer in a bid to tie it.

"I knew when that left my hand it was off," Frankamp said. "I didn't get a great look at it."

Kansas went to a full-court press down five points with about 11 minutes to play and forced five turnovers the next 6 minutes to tie it

Kansas had been 0 for 10 from 3-point range for the tournament, seven of the misses against Eastern Kentucky, before Frankamp connected with 3:34 to go in the half.

Frankamp hit another one just before the halftime buzzer off a turnover to put the Jayhawks up 24-22, their first lead of the game. They trailed most of the first half against Eastern Kentucky, too, before pulling away for an 80-69 win.

Powell hit his first shot on a drive after going 0 for 8 against New Mexico on Friday (local time). He had 10 points before drawing his fourth foul early in the second half.

Villanova, the No 2 seed in the East Regional, lost 77-65 to seventh-seeded Connecticut.

- AP

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