|Unbeaten Wichita State falls to Kentucky, 78-76|
|Sunday, March 23, 2014 8:08 PM|
ST. LOUIS — Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall walked slowly through the line for post-game handshakes, congratulating every player from Kentucky on advancing to the Sweet 16.
When he shook hands with John Calipari, the Wildcats’ coach whispered, “Marvelous season.”
Marvelous, indeed. Just not quite perfect.
The top-seeded Shockers were finally beaten by a team stocked with NBA prospects, the end coming when Fred VanVleet’s 3-pointer bounced harmlessly off the rim and the buzzer sounded on a 78-76 loss to the Wildcats in the third round of the NCAA tournament.
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.
“It really has been a magic-carpet ride and to have it end, it’s something that we’re going to have to get used to,” Marshall said with a drained voice, “but I still think in retrospect, we’ll still look back on it and be so proud.”
Andrew Harrison had 20 points, Aaron Harrison had 19 and Julius Randle contributed 13 points and 10 rebounds for the No. 8 seed Wildcats (26-10), who advanced to face Louisville on Friday in the Midwest Regional semifinals, at long last playing like the preseason No. 1 team in the country.
“I’ve been doing this so long. I’ve been in wars,” Calipari said. “You all understand this was an Elite Eight game. The winner of this should have gone to the Final Four.”
The game matched the bluest of the blue-bloods, the most successful program in Division I history with eight national championships, against a gritty bunch of 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,” Marshall added. “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.
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; 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.
The Midwest Regional showdown came after an entertaining undercard matchup that saw Stanford knock off Kansas and it lived up to every expectation.
Kentucky was successful early using its superior size, not only in the paint but also on the perimeter, where the 6-6 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 defense, 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; 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, 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 added. “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.
“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 added. “At the end of the day, someone’s got to go home.”
TENNESSEE 83, MERCER 63
RALEIGH, N.C. — Jarnell Stokes had 17 points and a career-high-tying 18 rebounds,and Tennessee denied Mercer a second straight upset in the NCAA tournament.
Josh Richardson had a career-high 26 points and Antonio Barton added 18 for the 11th-seeded Vols (24-12), who outrebounded Mercer 41-19 and kept the Southeastern Conference perfect in the tournament.
They joined Florida and Kentucky in the round of 16 — the first time three SEC teams made it that far since 2007.
Tennessee will face second-seeded Michigan (27-8) in a Midwest Regional semifinal Friday night in Indianapolis.
Langston Hall had 15 points to lead the 14th-seeded Bears (27-9), who beat Duke in the signature upset of the tournament but couldn’t answer Tennessee’s size.
IOWA ST. 85, NORTH CAROLINA 83
SAN ANTONIO — DeAndre Kane drove for the game-winning layup with 1.6 seconds left and No. 3 seed Iowa State advanced to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2000.
The Cyclones (28-7) head to Madison Square Garden next week to face No. 7 seed Connecticut in the East Regional semifinals.
The Tar Heels (24-10) are gone in the NCAA tournament’s opening weekend for the first time in consecutive seasons under coach Roy Williams.
North Carolina’s Nate Britt raced the ball up court after Kane’s basket but time expired before he could reach halfcourt and call a timeout. Officials huddled for several minutes reviewing clock replays before ruling the game was over.
Marcus Paige led the Tar Heels with 19 points.
STANFORD 60, KANSAS 57
Dwight Powell had 15 points and seven rebounds and No. 10 seed Stanford wrapped up its second straight upset at the free-throw line.
Chasson Randle added 13 points, six steals and four assists for the Cardinal (23-12), who advanced to the round of 16 for the first time since 2008 — also their last NCAA appearance. They beat No. 7 seed New Mexico on Friday.
Freshman Andrew Wiggins had just four points on 1-for-6 shooting with four turnovers in what could have been his final college game for Kansas (25-10).
Tarik Black had 18 points and six rebounds for the Jayhawks but fouled out with 5:25 to go. Conner Frankamp had 12 points on four 3-pointers, the last two in the final 23 seconds.
Stanford was 9-for-12 at the free throw line over the final 2:04.
Frankamp missed a third 3-point attempt off the glass near the buzzer in a bid to tie it.
UCLA 77, STEPHEN F. AUSTIN 60
SAN DIEGO — Jordan Adams scored 19 points and UCLA beat Stephen F. Austin 77-60 on Sunday to reach the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2008.
The fourth-seeded Bruins (28-8) will play Florida, the tournament’s overall top seed, in the South Regional semifinals on Thursday in Memphis. First-year coach Steve Alford has won as many NCAA tournament games in three days as the Bruins had in the previous five seasons combined.
Alford replaced Ben Howland, who was fired a year ago after the Bruins lost to Minnesota in their NCAA tournament opener. This is UCLA’s first trip to the regionals since Howland got the Bruins to their third straight Final Four in 2008.
Stephen F. Austin (32-3), the No. 12 seed, had its 29-game winning streak snapped. The Lumberjacks hadn’t lost in exactly four months.
UCLA’s Norman Powell scored 16 points and Kyle Anderson had 15 points and eight rebounds.
Thomas Walkup had 22 points and 11 rebounds for the Lumberjacks while Desmond Haymon had 17 points and Nikola Gajic added 10.
The Lumberjacks stayed with the Bruins through much of the first half before the mismatch in talent and pedigree became obvious.
The Bruins, in the NCAA tournament for the 46th time and winners of 11 national titles, went on a 12-2 run in just less than 3 minutes, starting with a runner in the lane by Alford’s son, Bryce. Alford also had a 3-pointer that helped UCLA take a 32-21 lead with 5:44 left.
Three-pointers by Deshaunt Walker and Haymon closed the gap to five points before the Bruins finished the half on a 10-5 run to lead 42-32. Tony Parker had two layups and Adams a 3-pointer to help keep the lead in double digits.
Powell opened the second half with two big plays, a slam dunk and then a coast-to-coast drive with a behind-the-back move followed by a layup for a 46-32 lead.